Gather Insights - to draw conclusions

If we gather insights from our mistakes, experiences and observations, we become smarter and more effective in dealing with the many and varied affairs of our life.

This makes sense to me.

Consider why many of us are glued to the tube. It's to gain information and insights on a range of topics that we can put to good use.

Even "Popeye" had many an insight to offer us with his under the breath comments.

In any event, there is nothing quite like the "voice of experience" to provide us with insights, and there is no reason on earth why we can't generate and file away a trove of insights from our own experience and observations.

This discussion shows examples of how we might gather insights from events and comments that we hear and see. After we have our insights, then we can drawn conclusions to help us be better managers of our approach to frugal living.

An Approach to the Task - two steps

We're here to talk about insights, but it's really a matter of taking raw data and observations, and trying to make sense of it all. To gather insights is no easy task, and much harder to explain with a single article, but I'm willing to give it a try.

If we are to gather insights effectively, we'll have to constantly practice assessing what people say and what people do.

I'm going to offer some suggestions. As with our efforts to seek information, it's largely a matter of asking questions. The tricky part is to ask the right questions, and then answer them without fooling yourself about what the right answer should be.

To gather insights, I suggest a two step approach that works rather well. The first step is to understand exactly what happened. You have to focus on facts.

The second step is to determine why something was said or done. Think of the motivating factors behind someone's words and actions.

The first step is easy because you're the one that experienced it - you've seen it with your own eyes, you've heard it with your own ears. That means you have first-hand information. It's raw information, but it's useful.

The second step isn't so easy - you have to ask questions in order to gather insights, then use those insights to draw reasonable conclusions from your observations and experience. In other words, you have to analyze what is happening. You have to extrapolate. You have to get some meaning out of it.

Let's Gather Insights from these Examples

I'm going to describe, at a top level, several scenarios and then gather insights about each of them by asking a set of simple questions. The answers to those questions should help lead me to draw a conclusion.

You may have different insights or conclusion than I do, and that's just fine. The point is to practice seeing what is really going on behind the words and actions of others.

I'll highlight in bold what I think is really going on, and this can begin to build a list of human behaviors for us - a set of templates that I think we'll find will fit many scenarios that we've seen in the past and many that we will see in the future.

  • A friend of mine wanted to buy a new car. She reasoned that her new car would be very reliable and she wouldn't have the repair bills of her older car. Even after I did the math for her, and showed her that the older car would cost her far less, she went ahead and bought the new car.

    Gather insights through questioning:

    • Was her older car especially unreliable? No.
    • How much was she spending each year to fix it? Not much.
    • Was she anticipating repairs that just weren't typical for her make and model car? Yep.

    I'd say it's rather clear that my friend was rationalizing the purchase of the new car. Sure, the reliability of a new car would likely be higher than her older car, but she was making an excuse to treat herself to a new car. She wasn't able to delay gratification.

  • At one of the local garage sales, a woman was looking at some things that the man had for sale. When she would pick up an item and examine the price marked on it, the man selling his things would often remark "that's a good price for...."

    Gather insights through questioning:

    • Was it his stuff to sell? Yes.
    • Did he want to get rid of it? Yes.
    • A good price in relationship to what? Other garage sales or retail outlets? Retail.
    • What else would he say? Not much. He wouldn't bash his own stuff or the prices he set.

    It's clear that the man was out there selling his stuff - which he should be doing. His comments about the reasonable prices was acting in his best interest - something else we should all be doing.

  • The levees around New Orleans were built to a category 3 hurricane. At the time they were known to be inadequate for a major hurricane. The category 5 hurricane hit in the form of Katrina. The levees failed, more than one thousand people died, and generally the response by government was pitiful.

    Gather insights through questioning:

    • Why were they built inadequately in the first place? Incompetence.
    • Would I bet my life and property on such an inadequate design? No.
    • Knowing that "the big one" was coming, would I have stayed in New Orleans to ride out the storm? No.
    • How would I have been prepared for something like this? Flood insurance and an escape plan.

    The levees were inadequate. They were almost sufficient to stop the storm. But, enough resources to almost succeed is still failure, and that's exactly what happened. Clearly, if you're counting on others, be prepared to be disappointed because there is only so much motivation that one person (or a group of individuals) will have to help others. For those who live in the path of storms each year, it seems that the cost of prevention can be cheap when compared with the price to be paid when the inevitable happens.

  • Staying with the New Orleans levee theme, a man stated during a televised interview (post Katrina) that President Bush stood in the way of funding that could have been used to improve the levees and prevent the disaster. That put Bush in a bad light.

    Gather insights through questioning:

    • Weren't the levees inadequate when they were first built during the Nixon administration? Yes.
    • Why is it only now that people are concerned about improving them? We're reactionary by nature.
    • Is it really the fault of the Bush administration that the levees broke? No.
    • What's the man's motivation for being interviewed now, and why haven't we heard from him previously? He's an opportunist.

    It seems clear that the man was most likely looking for a scapegoat and he wanted to make Bush look like he had some responsibility. The problem for Bush was simply that it happened on his watch, and that's how we tend to associate blame, regardless of who is really at fault. The man was taking a cheap shot and the Katrina disaster presented an opportunity.

  • There is a restaurant with a large support pillar inconveniently located in the middle of the entrance. It's an obnoxious location for the pillar. Moving the pillar or the entrance door three feet in either direction would be a tremendous improvement.

    Gather insights through questioning:

    • Didn't the engineers, designers or construction workers ever notice this inconvenient placement of the pillar and entrance door? Probably.
    • What would a contractor's interest be in bringing this problem to someone's attention? None, they get paid regardless.
    • Do the restaurant owners, managers or workers use this inconvenient entrance? No, employees and management use the back door.

    It's clear to me that the individuals responsible for this problem aren't the same one's who frequent the restaurant. If they were, they obviously would have selected a different design to support that portion of the building, located the entrance door elsewhere, or had the obstruction fixed.

    The meals served on Alaska Airlines are of good quantity and quality because they are the same meals that are served during Board of Directors meetings. The quality is there because those who operate the business are the same ones who use those services.

  • On September 11, 2001 our country was attacked by individuals who had been asked three questions by airline employees:

    1. Did you pack your bags yourself?
    2. Have your bags been in your control since you packed them?
    3. Has anyone asked you to carry an item on board the aircraft for them?

    On or about August, 2002, the airlines stopped asking these questions.

    Gather insights through questioning:

    • Why after years did the airlines stop asking these questions? They finally realized they were useless.
    • Why did the questioning stop when it did? To avoid a painful reminder in the form of a 1st year anniversary of the events that proved they were useless.
    • What does the termination of the questioning policy say about the effectiveness of the policy? It was ineffective all along.

    If you simply put yourself in the shoes of the Secretary of Transportation and those involved in the "security" we afford our air travel, the reasoning behind the change in policy becomes more clear. This was an attempt to save face by getting rid of the very questions that had finally proven themselves to be so ineffective. And, the ineffectiveness of the questions was just about to be shoved in our face again with the anniversary of September 11th.

  • In high school, a girl in class made a presentation. It was okay, but not great by any stretch of the imagination. The students in the class made constructive criticisms and some made not-so-constructive criticisms. All, except one boy who remarked, "I liked it."

    He didn't offer any specifics why he liked it. He just said that he thought it was a "good presentation." Clearly it was not a good presentation according to the rest of the class.

    Gather insights through questioning:

    • Why did the boy say he liked the presentation when clearly it was mediocre at best? He was trying to curry favor with the gal.
    • Why didn't he offer any reasoning behind his opinion? Because he didn't have any, other than trying to side with the gal.
    • What might his motivations have been? Winning the affections of the gal.

    I don't think there was a student in the classroom that didn't understand why the boy was making favorable (and unsupported comments) about the girl's presentation. He was sweet on her and he was trying to obtain her favor through flattery.

  • In a recent political race, a celebrity from Hollywood made some careless remarks about a bill in Congress, and criticized an incumbent running for office. The celebrity misstated facts in a televised commercial plug for the challenging candidate that he favored.

    When the incumbent was interviewed about the misstatements by the celebrity, he said "he must have had a draft copy."

    Gather insights through questioning:

    • Why didn't the incumbent detail the misstatements made by the celebrity? That had already been done by the media.
    • Why didn't he slam the celebrity for being so irresponsible in his remarks? He would have looked mean spirited.
    • What was the purpose of saying that he might have been working off of a draft copy of the bill? To appear gracious and allow to the celebrity to save face.

    The incumbent was acting in his own best interest by not discrediting the celebrity. It likely would have backfired on him based on the popularity of the celebrity. He was also allowing this uninformed spokesperson to to save face by acting in a polite manner and offering a plausible explanation for the blunder.

  • When the prisoner of war (detainee) abuses from Abu Ghraib outside of Baghdad, Iraq were first exposed, the country was shocked at the behavior of some of our soldiers, both those posing and those taking the photos.

    Gather insights through questioning:

    • How did soldiers come to behave in such a manner? They were allowed or encouraged to do so.
    • Who was in charge of the prison? Normal chain of command.
    • Where did the torture and abuse techniques come from? The normal chain of command.
    • Isn't the military a rigid hierarchy of command? Yep.

    This all points to a basic concept - those at fault are those in charge. The abuses at the lowest levels can't go on unless they are condoned or ignored consistently up through the ranks from the abusers to the Commander in Chief. If someone in charge was "watching the store" and cared, then the abuses would have been terminated unless it was approved or encouraged.

Summing it Up

I think you can see that taking a careful look at things and asking the right questions will help us gather insights about a particular situation. Armed with these insights, we can drawn some reasonable conclusions that help us determine why things are the way they are, why people do what they do, and why people say what they say.

The point is when it comes to important things, like frugal living, we should be on our toes to gather insights because this helps with our understanding of the current situation, and it helps us predict what will happen in the future.

It's been said that those who refuse to learn from history (even recent history) are doomed to repeat it. Those of us who aren't so happy with our recent history had better improve on gathering insights and drawing conclusions, otherwise we're doomed to repeat our mistakes.

After my financial crash and burn, my vow was simple, "been there, done that - ain't never doing that again." Dr. Phil McGraw has a simple idea - if you don't like your results, do something different. The idea is that different actions often create different results. He also advises to "be someone who gets it."

In a way, that's what this discussion is about. Make observations, gather insights, and then use those insights to help you draw reasonable conclusions. Act on those conclusions so you can set a different course that will keep you in the clear and out of harm's way.

Done with Gather Insights, take me back to Managing Money

Done with Gather Insights, take me back to Individual Responsibility

There certainly is a broad scope of topics here at Frugal Living Freedom. When you think about it, money permeates so very many activities in our lives, therefore, being frugal encompasses a wide range of interests, from being employed to taking a vacation, and just about everything in between. Enjoy the variety, pick up some new ideas, and start making frugality a part of your signature.

I'm a big proponent of being debt-free, and I mean entirely debt-free - no mortgage payment. It's not essential for financial freedom, but you'll love the feeling once you get there. If you didn't have a rent or mortgage payment, how much more could you do for yourself with your current level of income? I suspect plenty.

If you ever hope to see an abundance of wealth, you need to plug the hole in your boat. The wealthy don't necessarily make lots of money, instead, they know how to hang onto what they make, and make it work for them.