Friday, April 4, 2008

"Wishful Thinking"

During the late 1990’s, when the stock market was going through the roof – experts were writing bestsellers with titles like Dow 36000 –a veteran stockbroker, a vigorous man in his eighties, was interviewed on a television business show about this unprecedented financial boom. The prevailing wisdom at the time insisted that something fundamentally different was taking place. Some new paradigm had supplanted the sound investment principles of the past, the old model considered permanently obsolete. The question the interviewer wanted answered was this:

“Do you think the stock market will ever go down again?”

The elderly money maven smiled patiently and said,

“Of course.”

“Why do you think so?”

The veteran broker, with twinkling eyes, replied,

“It always has.”

After a decade-long rollercoaster ride, the Dow stands, not at 36000, but at somewhere around twelve and a half. Who was right and who was wrong?

What’s the message here?

Wishful thinking is not thinking.

Example Two:

During the last football season, the New England Patriots had a perfect record through the regular season and the playoffs. Lacking a reliable running game, the Patriots won almost exclusively by passing, their quarterback, Tom Brady, setting a single-season record for touchdowns through the air, with fifty. Football commentators hailed the demise of the “balanced attack” as a winning principle for the game. The Patriots had initiated the Model of the Future. The “balanced attack” was yesterday’s news.

The Patriots lost the Superbowl? A primary reason? No balanced attack.

The team had no running game, so they championed a model when the balanced attack didn’t matter.

All together now:

Wishful thinking is not thinking.

Numbah Three:

Today, in the paper, NBC jumped the gun by announcing its 2008-2009 programming schedule. The announcement reported that three of the shows NBC is bringing back are ER, 30 Rock and Friday Night Lights. ER is a former blockbuster, long past its popular prime. 30 Rock and Friday Night Lights were never popular. Since the beginning of television, the traditional programming paradigm was to schedule shows that substantial numbers of viewers wanted to watch. It would appear, judging by NBC’s current strategy, that some new paradigm is now in play, one where you schedule shows that viewers have either stopped watching or never watched in the first place.

There are explanations for NBC’s decisions beyond the “Despite less than stellar ratings, we are proud to have these shows on our schedule” blah-blah provided in the paper. The Writer’s strike may have interrupted the development process to the extent that the new shows were not ready to go. But that’s based on the premise that the development process actually makes shows better.

There’s also the Cheers precedent. Cheers was a show, which, in its first season, ranked last in the ratings, but was picked up for a second season anyway. We know what happened then. Cheers found its audience and ran successfully for years. The three shows NBC renewed are also quality shows. But ER has been on for fifteen years and is not coming back. 30 Rock and Friday Night Lights have failed commercially for two seasons, and there’s no Cheers-like ratings explosion on the horizon. NBC’s decision-making has to represent a new approach; otherwise, it’s just stupid.

The NBC decision has all the makings of a third example of wishful thinking.

And wishful thinking – Everybody! – is not thinking.

These examples represent new hotshot theories eliminating the tried and true. The first two were wrong, the third, doesn’t look good. So what I’m saying here? Stick to the old ways, no matter what? Never try anything new? Is this blogger then a closet, or not so closet, conservative, clinging stubbornly to the past and steadfastly opposing all change?

J’accuse, Mr. Pomerantz. J’accuse!

Oh, dear. I kind of scared myself for a second. I saw poor little Earl in one of those tumbrils rolling to an appointment with Monsieur Guillotine.

Allow me a small rebuttal. In this blogger’s opinion, neither the past nor the future – alone – holds all of the answers. The past had some good stuff and some terrible stuff – assemble your own list on that one. The future offers hopeful possibilities but, unchecked by a wisdom of the past, a headlong reliance on “the new” can lead you into giant blunders. The sub-prime lending practice. There was a new idea. But was it ever a good one? Hey, Bankers! You think somebody could have researched the Savings and Loan debacle before plunging mindlessly ahead?

The future also offers experiments – social, economic, and otherwise – that have yet to be proven, one way or another. I’ll get into those in future postings. All I’ll say now is this:

Put everything to the test.

The test is to think about it, whatever it is. Weigh the evidence. Hear all sides. Imagine the future, but consider the past. Put it all together, then make the “call.” What you need to leave out, however, is wishful thinking. That’s dreaming with your eyes open.

Definitionally, wishful thinking may, in the end, be thinking. It’s just not the most helpful kind of thinking.

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I've been meaning to mention Judy for some time, but I, you know, keep forgetting. It's not Judy's fault. We only worked on keys.


growingupartists said...

Hi Judy!

Anonymous said...

TV has changed since cable took over. For those who doubt that compare the last year profits for cable network USA ($700 million) vs sister network NBC ($300 million). 30 Rock survived because NBC couldn't cancel everything, it is an award winning show, and does well with a part of the 18-49 audience. Friday Night Lights was picked up by Direct TV and NBC will show the reruns. It is hard to consider NBC a major network anymore.
The real problem the networks face is refusing to change with the audience age. TV and its advertisers have always seeked the largest mass audience. Since the 60's the baby boomers have been the largest audience, and they still are. Yet TV networks aim at 18-49 (the younger the better) and wonder why their numbers are smaller. Wishful thinking can also ignore change.

Ger Apeldoorn said...

Wishfull thinking or not... those who like 30 Rock and Friday Night Lights like them a lot. I get the impression that the base audience for those shows is a solid one, rather than a fickle fad-seeking higher audence for the next 'hit' show.

Earl Pomerantz said...


You're right. That wasn't such a great example. The point, made by the commenter who said networks refuse to program to the audience that watches - the loyal, older audience - and, instead, program for the audience of the young - who are doing other things - that's a better example. The networks' current strategy - that's truly wishful thinking. I bow to the wisdom of my readers.