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On Watch

by Peter Schrappen

Stats are for baseball fans. Stick to stories.

There’s nothing like going on a long cruise. In my case, I had the great pleasure last summer of spending time on my in-laws Nordhavn in Alaska. I got to stay out of trouble, holed up either in the galley eating or covered up in blankets rereading some of my favorite books (or my favorite activity: eating while reading). This time gave me the chance to take another look at the opus Thinking, Fast and Slow, written in 2011 by Daniel Kahneman. If someone asked me, “Hey Schrappen, what’s the most important book written in the last ten years?” I would respond quite easily, “Thinking, Fast and Slow and why are you calling me by my last name?” Not only does the book explain how decisions are made, but important thinkers and authors regularly refer to its significance. For people like me that best grasp complex topics in their simplest forms it is written in a way that I can understand.

My executive summary of this tome would go something like: Humans make decisions either fast (a “Systems 1” style of thinking) or sloooow (what the author would call “Systems 2”). Decision-makers (that’s us!) base decisions on handy rules of thumb (called “heuristics”). As we go along, humans trip themselves up by various biases (like gender, age, and even low-price biases). The book got me thinking since I first read it. What are the ways that lawmakers make decisions? What biases get in their way of making rational decisions? How can I use these pre-determined rules of thumb to boaters’ advantages?

First, I would say that more times than not, logic does not matter on controversial issues. When disagreements occur, the elected officials place a political lens over their decision-making. This “politics-trump-logic” mindset can frustrate many boaters when they engage their legislators. Don’t get me wrong. Key facts matter and they certainly matter when a state senator asks you for metrics and you answer, “I don’t know.” If you know only one fact, know that boating has an economic impact around $4 billion dollars.

Relying strictly on facts, however, reduces our stories, history, and innovations to just cold numbers. Play by play without color commentary is a good way to fall asleep. Similarly, how can the boating community speak the language of lawmakers? To paraphrase another of my favorite authors, entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk: Jab, jab, jab with data and then right hook with a killer story.

Similarly, lawmakers use two different systems when making decisions: Systems 1 (logic, facts) and Systems 2 (stories). Lawmakers have bookshelves full of facts. Often what they don’t have are a core group of constituents taking these facts and overlaying compelling stories with them; Systems 1 (facts) plus Systems 2 (stories). If I had to pick one, I’d go with the stories. Stats and memorizing numbers are for baseball fans, stories are for everyone else.

And wow, does the boating world have important stories and the right messengers. Case in point: I received this email from a reader (let’s call him “Super-reader”) the other day. He was proactively reaching out to Jon Snyder, who is a pro-boating advocate in Governor Inslee’s cabinet. Snyder and I have been working on getting more boats to Washington for chartering without an onerous tax. With that in mind, here is how Super-reader unwrapped the silent economy of boating:

Good Morning Jon:

I have been “standing by” in my office, sending emails and making phone calls as I monitor the sale of a client’s yacht that is taking place right now. It is a 130-footer that was built here in Washington and was completed and delivered to my client in 2014. She is dockside in Florida waiting for one captain to say farewell and another captain to introduce himself/herself. The rest of her crew has signed off. I have never stepped on board, nor have I even seen her. Many times when I am working it feels like this stuff is not real, as I most often do not see what is the focus of all our attention. I am just on the phone, computer, texting, shuffling papers, looking at surveys, etc. Sometimes the yacht is in the state, other times she is thousands of miles away.

I started thinking about how this distant object gained its form and all its components here in Washington state. There were architects and designers involved from all over probably, and workmen climbing all over it giving it its existence, just waiting for Friday to arrive. Then it is off to a family for the weekend, or the movies, the mountains, the restaurants, and taverns and off to see the parents, etc. And of course a lot of money traded hands throughout the process. Families got a share, and from there it went to the grocers, and the gas stations, and the restaurants, and a million other places.

So these things that we don’t see too often and we talk about are real. Just some random, early morning ramblings…

Ah, great stories. We all need great stories. And guess what? Super-reader got Jon’s attention and received a response. Stay tuned on this one.

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