How to Miss the Point

A tragedy

On the 14th December 2012 in Newtown Connecticut, Adam Lanza shot and killed his mother.  He then drove to Sandy Hook Elementary School where he murdered twenty-six children and six adults.  Finally he committed suicide by shooting himself in the head.

Twenty-eight senseless deaths.

Wikipedia describes the what happened that day.  It was truly chilling.  As a father of two I cannot think of anything more harrowing.

But the tragedy is bigger

The events of that day lead to a petition demanding that the British journalist Piers Morgan be deported from the US because of his pointed calls for gun reform.

Piers’ point was simply that in the US nine thousand people are murdered with guns every year, where as in the UK, where we don’t have the right to bear arms, that number is about forty.  Even allowing for the fact that the US has roughly five times as many people as the UK it is fair to say that there is a difference.

Guns kill.

Nine thousand is not a big number

Every year in the US cigarettes kill four hundred and forty-three thousand people.  Forty-nine times more people die at the tip of a cigarette  than at the point of a gun.  Health officials estimate that fifty thousand of the dead are simply passive smokers.

Guns kill, but cigarettes are lethal.

Four hundred and forty three thousand is not a big number

According to the World Health Authority roughly ten million children die every year, 99% of them live in low and middle income countries.  The primary cause of death is poor nutrition

Cigarettes are lethal, but poverty is a monster.

The biggest tragedy of all

In the 3 weeks that it took a hundred thousand Americans to get each other excited enough to sign a petition demanding that Piers Morgan be deported, six hundred thousand children died of malnourishment.

That is roughly twice the population of the city I live in.

And all that happened to poor old Piers is that he got more much-loved publicity.

So what has this got to do with improving a business?

We react to what we see and hear, the data and information that is available to us.  Psychologists call it the “Availability Heuristic“.  Or, to put it another way, “out of sight is out of mind“.

Just because we see an issue, it doesn’t mean that it is one.

Take the time to stand back and look at the bigger picture.

You will be truly horrified by what you find.

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Image by DFID – UK Department for International Development’s photostream


  1. James
    I have only one word to describe this post of yours and how it shows up for me: FANTASTIC.

    Thank you for writing this. Being an ordinary human being I am as ‘guilty’ as any of my fellow human beings when it comes to this bias. I thank you for getting me present to it.


  2. James,

    Great post. This is why I wrote about Root Cause Analysis as my learning from the senseless shootings in Newtown. People go for the obvious, or what they think is the obvious. Yes, guns kill. But people shoot the guns. What was wrong with Adam Lanza? What drove him to shoot the gun? Clearly, some mental illness. Not only do people need to step back and look at the bigger picture but they also need to dive in and understand the heart of the matter. There’s more than meets the eye.

    Thanks for writing this.

    Annette P:-)

    • James Lawther says:

      I couldn’t agree more Annette. I think we are all guilty of jumping to conclusions from time to time


  3. Mark Welch says:

    Interesting. Thousands of Americans rally to support the deportation of an Englishman because they don’t like his views. Speaks volumes about those creating and signing the petition, doesn’t it?

  4. Hi James,
    What a great perspective piece.

    All of things that you mentioned are issues yet we seem to focus on the things that are more immediate, personal and closer to home. Is that all about us or is the media at fault too?


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