How do you know what to wear?

Measurement, especially when it comes to forecasting can cause a lot of stress and bad feeling in most organisations, that gives it a really bad name, but stopping measuring anything is also generally a bad idea. I wanted to use the idea of weather to explore what we can measure, why this can help us.

To set the context, we are now talking about complex systems. Not complicated and not chaotic. Complex systems can quickly fool us into thinking there is some method in their madness. We seek patterns and thanks to that cognitive bias we will find them. Let’s take the weather. Sayings such as “Red Sky at night, shepherd’s delight. Red sky in the morning, shepherd’s take warning.” have been around since biblical times, and while there is some science behind the rule it won’t work all the time.

I’ll rephrase the title of this blog slightly. How can we be effective in our choice of clothing to ensure we feel most comfortable throughout the day? Based on the information we know about the complex system called the weather, how can we make good decisions?

Well we don’t start by not measuring anything, that’s for sure. You’ll end up cold, wet or hot and sweaty most days.

We could make use of the historical information at hand, both our personal experience and that of the Meteorologists. These measures (rainfall, temperature, wind speed etc.) give us boundaries in which to operate. Averages with their deviation tell us that we should get our winter wardrobe out, or it is time to pack away the shorts and flip-flops. We then have our view of the current situation, who doesn’t look outside before deciding which coat to take or whether packing an umbrella today is a good idea?

But if we want to make sure we’re really comfortable, whatever the weather, then we’ll start playing with options (real options for ref.). We can use layers to give us control over temperature, a vest in the winter but an optional jumper. The umbrella mentioned above is a low cost solution to keeping dry. Gloves, scarfs and hats give us even more control when things get really icy.

So given this analogy, I think it is more generally acceptable to measure things in a complex system environment, just don’t try and forecast too far ahead and don’t try and read too much into the patterns you see, use this information to keep your options open, by doing so we can all reduce the level of stress and anxiety that will happen when you’re forecasting starts to go wrong.

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