Gap Theory

“Never underestimate the power of human stupidity.” – Robert Heinlein


Behaviors and Consequences

No, this is not what you might think it is about. This is about something much less hypothetical and much more practical. And very real, in an odd way. So real, in fact, that there is widespread, adamant denial about it. It begins with a simple question –

Ever wonder why people do stupid things?

Let’s be be clear, we do stupid things. Often. And, for what it’s worth, for very good reasons.

So we say.

To pursue this we need to start, actually, in a seemingly unrelated place. Literature.

One of the most popular forms of literature, at least in English if not in many other languages, is the genre of mysteries. Murder mysteries, Who-Done-It’s, crime novels, and spy novels come to mind. Invariably these follow a basic pattern of

Something Happens; Investigation ensues; new information surfaces; mystery solved.

One can trace this pattern back through Shakespeare and even early Greek literature, Homer for instance. Often, the discovery of missing information (or misinterpretation of existing information) is the driving force behind comedy.

It seems that ever since we can remember, or write down or relate orally, mankind has been intrigued with recognizing and finding missing information.

Except when we’re not.

Ironically, there is missing information in the pattern above. Something important needs to be added:

Suddenly Something Happens;
Over Time Investigation ensues;
Eventually new information surfaces; Then mystery solved.

There is in reality a Gap in Time between the Event and its Resolution.

As long as we’re being entertained, the Gap in Time is part of the entertainment and events look something like this,


But if we are emotionally involved with or in the Something That Happened,

There is no time for the Gap in Time, because there is no entertainment! It has been replaced with loss aversion!

Unfortunately, events now look more like this,


We react to the Something (a crisis?) with a reaction based upon what we know regardless of whether it is complete or accurate. This “knowledge” has become our basis of “truth.”

Court cases are based upon “discovering the truth” so that a verdict can be rendered. The event occurred quickly, but the investigations, interrogations, depositions, and witness testimonies take time and are often conflicting. It is well recognized that eyewitnesses are often notoriously undependable, but it is nearly all that we have. Sorting out the inconsistencies is time consuming.

What most often results is not the “Truth,” but whichever “truth” is most believable (this is, alas, a reality not fully recognized except by Lawyers and Other Reptiles).

All the while, there is pressure to close the Gap, to get to the “truth” so that a verdict can be reached and closure, restitution, or revenge can be obtained.

At the time of the Emotional Reaction to a Something, everyone has their own version of what happened, their own “truth.” And in the heat of the moment, this “truth” becomes the only one that counts.

The search for the Missing Information then becomes the next casualty.

In a fit of insomnia one night, the following “explanation” (or distorted understanding; take your pick) came to mind:

  • At some moment, an Event, Crisis, or Something occurs;
  • This triggers a (near immediate) Emotional Reaction, based upon
    1. ~What we Actually Saw (which means we were there)
      The impact is, of course, dependent upon how close we were. Thus, like sound or light (pardon the analogy, but follow me here), the relationship (or reliability) of what we saw (our “data”) to what actually happened is
          ≈ (that is, proportional to) k1/r2
      where r is how far we were from the event and k1 (for our individual observational skills) is very much less than 1 (because eyewitnesses are notoriously unreliable, for the most part);
    2. ~What we Heard (which doesn’t necessarily mean we were there)
      Similar to the above, the relationship (or reliability) of what we heard (our additional “data”) to what actually happened is
           ≈ k’1/r2
      where r is how far we were from the event, and k’1 (for our individual listening skills) is also very much less than 1.
      Now, if we weren’t at the event and we heard about it later from others, then the relationship is better described as,
          ≈ k’n/rn2 … k’3/r32 × k’2/r22 × k’1/r12
      where we multiply each person’s “data reliability” together to get an overall reliability. Since each of the k’n/rn2 factors is much less than 1, overall “data reliability” rapidly drops to near zero. In my fit of insomnia I realized this is a very good description of multi-person gossip and the game of Telephone. As happened before with the Behavior Curve (here), I quickly succumbed to a fit of laughter);
    3. ~Missing Information (especially for participants) reduces the value of every kn, and k’n, because we will never have all the information (Fundamental Principle 6); and
    4. ~Attitudes and Values.
      Our Values, vi, determine what is important to us, and are the foundation for:
      Our Attitudes, ai, which lead us to respond with one of Two Questions about the

      1. “Who Did This To Me (or Us, or Them)?”
        This most often leads to Fix The Blame (destructive) actions and a Victim Mentality, based on presuming the information we have is complete or at least adequate; or
      2. “What Can I (or We) Make of this Opportunity?” (a constructive response), or
        “How Does One Respond to Adversity?” (neutral, gaining time).
        These two responses imply a presumed understanding of what happened or a motivation to identify Missing Information, either in the short term or long term, in order to control a better outcome.
        Statistically, and according to the Behavior Curve, ~80% of people react with the first question, Question A.

All of which lead me to two conclusions.

First, depending upon or reacting immediately to Social Media or other Internet sources to supply us with our primary attitude and decision-forming information is a fool’s game. It is admitting there is No Time to Mind the Gap. It can only lead to frittering away any positives about a situation, because very few people are cognizant of the filters that have been applied in putting the information on the internet, or are cognizant of the motives of the posters, or are cognizant of the time and effort that is needed to peel away these filters, or are unwilling to invest the time. Or all of the preceding. Think Fake News.

This will become even more problematic with the growing popularity of “live-feeds.”

Our Human nature makes us rely heavily on the Availability Heuristic (responding to the information most available to us) and our Confirmational Bias (the tendency to interpret new evidence as confirmation of one’s existing theories and beliefs). It takes a conscious effort to overcome these and get to a better “Truth.” To step into the Gap.

Second, as irrational as it seems, the conscious effort to overcome both the Availability Heuristic and Confirmation Bias and gather as much eyewitness evidence or crowd opinions as possible does not always lead to the “Truth.”

Take the scatter plot at the beginning of this post. I intentionally left off the labels so as not to distract you until now.

The plot is actually a chart of Historical Rankings of US Presidents1, vertically (worst at the bottom, to best at the top), versus Popular Vote Election Margin2, horizontally.

There is no correlation between ranked effectiveness in office (granted, after the fact) and the magnitude of the winning margin in the popular vote (before the fact). Zip. Nada.


Popularly elected Presidents have been ranked as very effective, or abysmal. Presidents with minimal margin (or negative margin) have been ranked as very effective, or abysmal.

Thus, the ultimate Crowdsource for information (an Either/Or election with 100 million plus participants) is incapable of predicting long lasting outcomes.

Apparently, however, it is an Event that triggered (is still triggering?) Behaviors and Consequences that are not all that constructive in the short term.

The lessons:

Ignoring The Gap: A time-honored fool’s game;

Leaping over The Gap: Announcing you’re a fool;

Becoming a Gap Archeologist: smart, and well worth the effort.

1 Historical Ranking of US Presidents (average results from 14 surveys)

2 Historical Popular Vote Election Margins

About Jim Edmonds

I am a husband, father, mentor, who once was a chemist turned physicist turned marketer turned executive turned missionary turned professor. And survived it all.
This entry was posted in 06: Incomplete Information, 08: Observing, Listening, Learning, 13: Values & Self, 14: Behavior, Career, Lessons from History and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Gap Theory

  1. Oh my goodness!

    As a friend of ours was known to say, “This post is SPOT ON!”


  2. Jennifer says:

    Well said! Now, if only we can get you a podium, microphone and LOUD speaker at these out-of-control protests. Oh, but wait. That would require listening and heeding wisdom on the protesters part. Bummer. Scratch that idea.


    • Jennifer says:

      Regarding my above comment: I hate when I make grammatical errors. Better sentence: “That would require the protesters to listen and heed wisdom.”


  3. Pingback: Gap Theory 2 – Why Does AT&T Do Stupid Things? | Road Signs and Blind Spots

  4. Carol Spradley says:

    I really enjoyed the content as well as your writing style. Made me think while at the same time putting into words some of my thoughts! Kudos!


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