Deborah Hill Cone
Deborah Hill Cone is a Herald columnist

Deborah Hill Cone: Try again, this time with feeling

By Deborah Hill Cone

Blogger and media commentator Russell Brown is a very scholarly chap. He is a virtuoso at gathering data, stats, hard-boiled facts and all that grown-up left-brain stuff. As such an erudite bird, he has recently been venting his disdain for the current trend to gather our information from people who "don't know anything". Kind of funny coming from a blogger, but presumably he means anyone but him. He rails against this newspaper for daring to ask readers for their views about what causes autism. "It's the age of the vox pop, of the harvesting of feelings rather than thoughts." The study of autism should be left to scholars and medical professionals, Brown splutters.

Well ex-squeeze me, Russ. I'm sorry but I don't share your contempt for the views of the general punter, whose humble opinion in my humble opinion is often worth listening to. I also don't share your oleaginous respect for so-called experts. The more dogmatic someone is that they know all about a topic, the more sceptical I become. (The experts have certainly done dazzlingly well in unravelling autism so far - good work, fellas.)

I'm not the only one who says you should be wary of know-it-alls. Physicist Richard Feynman might have received the Nobel Prize for his work in quantum electrodynamics but he said he was never certain about anything, and reckoned progress came from a "satisfactory philosophy of ignorance". Brown no doubt embraces the maxim "comment is free but facts are sacred" but it is not a binary equation. That's why economics has gone from being solely about crunching numbers to including everyday questions about what makes people tick. Just look at the influence of Freakonomics and the FT's Undercover Economist. Malcolm Gladwell wrote a well-reasoned book called Blink about the value of intuition over facts.

Smart economists know emotions matter, sometimes more than facts. Not all of them, of course. Reserve Bank governor Allan Bollard is austere like Brown. Based on the figures, he says this country is never going to close the wealth gap with Australia and we should content ourselves with the crumbs from their table. That's the spirit, tiger. Whereas Prime Minister John Key says just because it's hard doesn't mean we shouldn't aspire to it. Key understands that the goal is not just about policies but also about attitude and feelings. If we didn't think we were such a cotcase of a country we might have more chance of clawing our way up the OECD ranks.

Instead of trying to deny our feelings, perhaps we should be harnessing them. This is not something businesspeople are very good at. Many executives are geniuses at suppressing their emotions and pride themselves on looking at cold hard facts. This can lead them to become somewhat disordered individuals; the sad case of Herman Rockefeller springs to mind.

Perhaps if we tried to use thoughts to encourage us to have more positive feelings we would achieve more. But that's just how I feel. That's from one of the people who is proud to say I don't know anything.

dhc@deborahhillcone.com

- NZ Herald

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