Jeffrey Saltzman's Blog

Enhancing Organizational Performance

Living forever in the South Bronx

with 2 comments

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There is an old story that goes something like this about a very rich man, lets say he lived in Manhattan, who had everything he wanted out of life except for one thing – he wanted to live forever. He struggled mightily with trying to figure out how he could accomplish that goal. Finally he came to the realization that he needed the assistance of others if he was to accomplish that goal. He thought about consulting some I/O Psychologists he knew, or going to see his doctor, but he finally settled on the smartest people that he knew, the New York council of elders.  He went to the council of elders and he said, “I am a very rich man and I want to live forever. If you can tell me how I can accomplish that I will give the city ½ of my wealth.”

Well to the council of elders in the perpetually cash strapped city this was an offer that they just could not refuse. So they decided that they should figure out a way for this rich fellow to live forever. After much deliberation, the demographer in the group said, “I have been studying my charts and tables, and I have found that as far back as records have been kept, that no rich man has ever died in the South Bronx. So if the rich man were to move to the South Bronx he could live forever.” Well the elders were astonished. They decided to study the charts for themselves and they too came to the conclusion that no rich man according to their records has ever died in the impoverished South Bronx.

They went to the rich man and said, “We have found a way in which a rich man can live forever”. They explained to him that he needed to move to the South Bronx and asked for their money. Well, the rich man not being a fool said to them, “I will give you half the money now and half when I have proof that I will live forever in the South Bronx”. The elders protested and said that they had found the answer that the rich man was looking for, but there was little they could do as the rich man was very shrewd.

The rich man moved his family and all his possessions to the South Bronx and in due course he passed away, the city never got the second half of his wealth.

Morale of the Story: You can conclude anything you want based on your point of view, statistical misinterpretation and depending on how you are measuring it or not measuring it as the case may be, or you can’t live forever in the South Bronx, only in Hoboken.    

When we measure organizational performance, while not as obvious as in the above story, sometimes conclusions are based on what is not being measured as much as what is being measured or the misinterpretation of statistical results and that can clearly lead to erroneous outcomes.

© 2010 by Jeffrey M. Saltzman. All rights reserved.

Visit OV: www.orgvitality.com

Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

October 19, 2009 at 11:10 am

2 Responses

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  1. great parable — thanks for the insight

    davis

    October 19, 2009 at 11:28 am

  2. While I can’t comment on the South Bronx, I can say that I’ve spent enough time in a few choice cities (ever been to Saginaw, Michigan on a hot humid day in July?) that I could say with confidence I knew EXACTLY what it would feel like to live there forever! Half a fortune to get there; half a fortune to get out.

    Marc Sokol

    April 27, 2010 at 5:44 pm


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