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Contemplations and Consumptions: Vol 9

Contemplations

In my previous post, I referenced a quote by the comedian, Chris Rock, in which he likened comedians to detectives. I am going to pull on this thread today.

Sherlock Holmes is regarded as the greatest fictional detective, a character renowned for his exceptional observational and deductive skills. These are skills I am keen to improve in my work and life. I unpack below some of Holmes’ crime-solving methods.

On Observation

“You see everything.”

The Adventure of the Blanched Soldier

Holmes, in several of his cases, had his observational skills praised, like the statement above. He would remark that he only saw more because he had trained himself to notice what he saw.

This art of observation is demonstrated in a conversation with his famous sidekick – Dr. Watson.

I could not help laughing at the ease with which Holmes explained his process of deduction. ‘When I hear you give your reasons,’ Watson remarked, ‘the thing always appears to me to be so ridiculously simple that I could easily do it myself, though, at each successive instance of your reasoning, I am baffled until you explain your process. And yet I believe that my eyes are as good as yours.’

‘Quite so,’ Holmes answered, lighting a cigarette, and throwing himself down into an armchair. ‘You see, but you do not observe. The distinction is clear. For example, you have frequently seen the steps which lead up from the hall to this room.’

‘Frequently.’

‘How often?’

‘Well, some hundreds of times.’

‘Then how many are there?’

‘How many? I don’t know.’

‘Quite so! You have not observed. And yet you have seen. That is just my point. Now, I know that there are seventeen steps because I have both seen and observed.’

A Scandal in Bohemia

On Data

“Data! Data! Data!” he cried impatiently. “I can’t make bricks without clay.”

The Adventure of the Copper Beeches

Holmes couldn’t use his observational and deductive skills if he didn’t have access to sufficient data. He always resisted the temptation to form premature theories based on insufficient data. He argued that this led to twisting facts to suit theories instead of theories to suit facts.

Holmes’ method involved looking at the pieces of data critically to separate what was certain (fact) from what was conjecture (assumption). A fact is what we know that we know, whereas what we think we know is an assumption, which is an unverified opinion. He opposed guessing but ensured his theories and insights were always rooted in facts and not built on the quicksand of assumptions.

Though everything related to an investigation can be data; not everything is useful data. Holmes would turn the facts of the investigation over in his mind, striving to further separate vital facts (signal) from incidental facts (noise). His goal was to develop a theory that could reconcile all these vital facts and find that line of least resistance to solve the investigation.

He held his theories loosely until he had a high degree of probabilistic confidence in them as the best explanation of the problem. Holmes kept aside any outlier facts that didn’t quite fit the theory until the point where he could either disregard them or incorporate them into the theory as he acquired new information.

Consumptions

📺 (Documentary)

Pep Guardiola: Chasing Perfection – As a big Guardiola fan, I enjoyed this short BBC iPlayer documentary. It provides an overview of his career given its 62-minute runtime. There is little new information in this documentary for superfans like me, but new fans will get a lot more out of it. It covers his academy days at La Masia (Barcelona) to his recent treble win at Manchester City. There are interviews with his ex-Barcelona teammates, his ex-players (e.g. Ikay Gundogan, Manuel Neuer, Carles Puyol, and Robert Lewandowski), and current players (Phil Foden, Rodri, and Kyle Walker). It was amusing to hear the radio phone call-ins from Man City fans criticising his decisions during his first season at the club and after the 2021 Champions League final loss. Unfortunately, Guardiola didn’t participate in this documentary, thus diluting its impact. However, he must have given his blessings based on the number of people interviewed from his inner circle like Txiki Begiristain. I await the day, perhaps when Pep has retired, for a proper documentary limited series to be done about his career with his involvement. That will be the ultimate prize for his superfans.

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