Two phrases you should treat with caution!

When dealing with statistics there are two seemingly innocuous phrases that should set your alarm bells ringing.  They are slipped into so many predictions almost as a matter of course, and we all too often ignore them.

They are:

“Other things being equal” sometimes given in Latin “ceteris paribus” as if that made it more helpful!


“If present trends continue”.

Just ask yourself, or even ask whoever is making the statement, what reasons are there to suppose that all relevant “other things” are or will remain equal, or whether present trends will continue, and for how long?

I have seen ridiculous scare stories about increases in accidents, crimes, diseases and all kinds of social ills, where the writers wanted us to believe the recorded rates of increase would go on for ever, or at least until we had all been killed!

Similarly, I have seen sales projections which seem to assume we are all going to continue buying cars, clothes, shoes, fridges and other products until we have got nowhere to put them.

The sensible question would be, “at what point will the rate of increase start to slow and at what point will it start to decrease?”  Think of a graph rising, flattening and then falling.

In the same way, ask what “other things” need to remain constant and how likely is it that they will.  Do the prophets of doom, or of utopia, not know that we live in an ever-changing world?

One swallow does not make a summer!


An earthshattering discovery.


When I was at school I was made to specialise fairly early, so I never learnt very much science.  I always knew anyway that a lot of what I had learnt would probably be superseded by progress.  I am not thinking of the invention of the wheel, by the way, but you get the point.

I went on to study economics.  It was a well worn joke in those days, and doubtless even more worn by now, that every year they set the same exam questions:  to keep us on our toes, they just changed the answers.  I have to say that there is some truth in that.  It is obvious that George Osborne learnt a different set of answers from those I was taught!

I did however think I was fairly safe with history.  All right, there have always been lots of new theories.  I remember having to learn the Old View and the New View about almost everything, so I could show the examiners I had really studied the subject.  But facts are facts.  Are they not?  So I was really amazed recently to discover that some of the most well known facts about ourselves – the British – are being challenged.

I was taught that prehistoric Britain was subject to a series of invasions, coming in waves from the near continent.  The Old Stone Age people were wiped out, or driven out to the extremities of Ireland, Scotland and Wales, by the New Stone Age people, who were in turn replaced by the Bronze Age People, also called the Iberians, who were of course replaced by the Celts, who brought in the Iron Age.  Then the pattern was broken by the Romans who came, saw, conquered, and finally departed, leaving us with a lot of roads, buildings, laws and Latin words, without really colonising Britain.  Then back to the previous model, as the Angles and Saxons invaded and wiped out the Celts who survived in the extreme North and West, like the remnants of their predecessors.  Thus the Angles and Saxons merged into the English, explaining why there are different languages and cultures in these islands.

I can hardly express my shock and horror having just read “The Origins of the British” by Stephen Oppenheimer. It is heavy going in parts, but fascinating.  He uses DNA studies as well as linguistics and archaeology.  He also re-examines some ancient documents, including the works of Julius Caesar and Bede, and finds things others seem to have overlooked.  His amazing but well argued and well supported conclusion s are, to simplify somewhat, as follows:

  1. After the Ice Age Britain was colonised by people coming from Spain and Portugal along the Atlantic Coast, settling on our West Coast and that of Ireland.
  2. Later waves came by a similar route, including the Celts at the start of the Neolithic period.
  3. Meanwhile, there were several waves of migrations from the Continent arriving up the East Coast and some along the South Coast. These were Germanic and especially Scandinavian.
  4. So the Angles and Saxons only added to an existing Germanic population that had been in what is now England from the Iron Age.
  5. There is no reason to believe in a series of genocides or acts of ethnic cleansing.
  6. There has been a lot of mixing of genes ever since so that most Britons today have a lot of Celtic genes even if they think they are totally English.
  7. And vice versa.

All my supposed certainties are in tatters.  But it is good to know that the Welsh are not the survivors of an act of genocide committed by the English.

So you cannot be certain even about the past.

We all need to be ready to reevaluate  from time to time almost everything we think we know.

This reinforces the point I made in a previous article about the need to review business practices which were once appropriate for their purposes, because the World changes so much.



How up to date are you?

I have just come from a breakfast meeting of Sci-tech Daresbury, where scientists meet businessmen of all kinds.  Of course the reason we all go there is in the hope of picking up some business, but, whether I make any useful business contacts or not, I always enjoy it.  That is because I meet  interesting people,  and/or people doing interesting things.  I often find myself talking to people who are involved in things I cannot understand, but it always fascinates me.   I find it good to be stretched mentally and to become aware of new ideas.

We should never stop learning.  I remember the words of the Vice Chancellor of Bristol University, Andrew Merrison, on my Graduation Day: “I hope you will never describe today as the day you completed your education.  If you do, we will have failed!”

It is also good to be reminded just how fast the world is changing.  Knowledge I once had is now out of date.  I will be writing more about that soon.  That also reminds me that systems you may have in place that were once appropriate for their purpose, such as controlling a risk, may now be out of date because of the way the World keeps changing.  Yes.  Even systems I may have suggested in the past!

So when did you last review your business?  How appropriate are all your systems for the purposes for which they were introduced?  Do you need a Risk Management review?

How poor are our children?

I have found myself getting confused over the Government’s statistics for child poverty.  Is it going up, down, or is it static?

It seems there are two lots of statistics you have to know about.  They are “Relative Poverty” and “Absolute Poverty”.  Usually these two figures move in the same direction because measures to alleviate poverty make people better of both relatively and absolutely.

I hope you are with me so far, because this is where it gets complicated.

During the recession, or whatever it was we are supposed to be coming out of, most people were worse off.  Unemployment, low wages, all that sort of thing.  Therefore poor people were not as relatively poor as they were previously, although they had not got any better off.

Now we are all a bit better off, the poor are relatively poorer. So ppor families ought to have been glad of the recession as it improved their relative position!

This is another example of how we can all be easily misled by statistics.  I know it has taken me some time and effort to understand this.  Perhaps I should write a sequel to my book, “How to Avoid Being Misled by Statistics”  Go to:


In fact the gap between rich and poor is wider than it was before the recession, but it depends how you choose your statistics.  None of this is any help to anyone living in poverty, especially if they have children.

Who said we are all in this together?

Ten things you might not know about Waterloo.

You may not have been able to avoid hearing, and probably seeing, some reminders that this is the second centenary of the Battle of Waterloo.  Here are a few facts I have discovered that were not made so prominent.  Some of them contain lessons for the present.  You may have your own views as to which ones.

  1. It was not really a British victory.  Apart from the Prussians, there were Dutch, Belgian and various German regiments fighting alongside the British.  We have often cooperated with other nations very successfully.
  2. Not all the Germans present were Prussians. There were many good German regiments in the British Army, mainly due to having a German king.
  3. Many British soldiers, and especially the officers, had never seen action before. Many had had administrative roles in the army until then.
  4. A second French Army under Field Marshall Gruchy failed to arrive to reinforce Napoleon’s troops.
  5. The weather was terrible. It rained in torrents overnight and gradually dried during the day.  This waterlogged the ground and reduced Napoleon’s advantage in manoeuvrability and limited his choices in placing his artillery.
  6. Napoleon survived the battle and fled to Nantes on Fance’s West coast, from where he planned to sail to South America. He was intercepted in port by the Royal Navy.
  7. The King of France wanted Napoleon to go to the guillotine, but the British Government insisted on letting him live in exile on St. Helena, mainly due to a plea on his behalf by Wellington.
  8. After Waterloo Wellington served as a diplomat for many years, helping set up a series of international congresses to deal with issues by negotiation rather than by war. A forerunner to the United Nations.
  9. Britain helped rebuild France and established peaceful relations with that country that have lasted to this day.
  10. The greatest achievement, at least partly thanks to Wellington, was that there was no war again in Europe until the Crimes in the 1850’s and no World War until 1914. This contrasts with our ability to win on the battlefield and lose the outcome in 1918 and more recently in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya.


Some of the lessons are political, but you may think there are parallels in business and everyday life.  One important one is that life sometimes offers opportunities which we may make the most of or throw away.  That is one important aspect of Risk Management.  Seeing the positive side of risk.  Perhaps you need a Risk Management consultation.