A Theory That’s Shot To Bits


Are you fixing the wrong problem?

Penn Jillette, one half of Penn & Teller the magicians, told a great true story on his podcast this week that could change the way you think about interpreting research and problem solving.

It was a story about Abraham Wald who was a Hungarian born mathematician who emigrated to the USA in 1938. During World War II, Wald applied his statistical skills to help minimize bomber losses to enemy fire.

Researchers from the Center for Naval Analyses were doing a study of the damage done to aircraft that had returned from missions. They wanted to decide where to put extra armour. They studied where the bullet holes were and had recommended that armor should be added to those areas because they showed the most damage.

Wald disagreed and recommended that the extra armour should be put in places where there were no bullet holes.

At first that sounds like a crazy idea until you realize that they were only looking at bullet holes in the planes that returned to base. The planes that were lost must have been hit in other areas, that’s why they didn’t make it back.

There’s a powerful lesson here for all of us. For instance, in the business I’m in, radio, I’ve always wondered why radio station managers take so much notice of people who contact the station to complain about what they’ve heard on the air, especially when it’s the same people who keep complaining. The fact that they’re complaining means they’re listening. The things they really need to fix are the things that make people turn off. Those people never complain and like the aircraft that have bullet holes in other places, they don’t make it back.

Craic on!

Listen to the latest Mack Nuggets at;


If you enjoyed this Craic, please click “like” and tweet a link. If you’d like to talk to me about it, call me on +44 1438 422106 between 6am and 9am (UK time) this week on BOB fm.



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