In ten days we can all celebrate having survived 2020.

Except for those of us who didn’t survive it.

A friend made the point that while most of us are quite concerned about COVID-19, we don’t think twice about the risk of driving to the supermarket and dying from injuries sustained in a collision.

As it turns out, my friend’s point made, with the assistance of a bit of googling, the opposite point: It turns out that traveling 230 miles by car carries with it a 1 “micromort” risk, a micromort being a one-in-a-million chance of sudden death. Extrapolating, a trip to the supermarket has a mortality risk of about 1 in 20 million, compared to the 1 in 1,000 we share for dying of COVID-19.

But the question he asked was the right one.

Without in any way trivializing the devastation that’s hit so many of us so hard on so many different fronts, I think that if we allow it, 2020 has given us an opportunity – an opportunity to think better.

Especially, this is the year that’s taught us how much the question my friend asked … “Compared to what?” … matters.

For example: As of this writing, California’s COVID-19 mortality has reached 22,436. On the face of it, this is carnage.

But … 22,436 compared to what? In round numbers, California’s population of 39.5 million is about the same as Florida and New York combined (40.9 million). But Florida and New York’s combined COVID-19 mortality is more than twice what California has experienced – 56,175.

Meanwhile, many of our fellow citizens are outraged … OUTRAGED! as they might have posted on Twitter … at being told by their government that they must socially distance themselves from others around them and, when in proximity, they must wear pieces of cloth in front of their faces.

But before we allow outrage to get the better of us, let’s ask our 2020 question: compared to what?

That is, if we compare mask-wearing imperatives to governmental regulation of, say, bowling, mandatory mask-wearing is a sizeable imposition. But if instead we compare them to the laws that protect our neighbors by requiring sobriety while driving, not to mention being having to earn a driver’s license and carry insurance?

When we think about the activities we’ve had to curtail or give up entirely, and how the businesses we patronized to enjoy them that have suffered catastrophically, yes, it’s been a miserable year.

But miserable compared to what? Our misery is trivial compared to what Londoners experienced during the blitz in WWII. And from what I know of the subject, Londoners in WWII complained less. (On that subject let me take a moment to commend Citizens of London to your reading list.)

So as we gripe about what an awful year 2020 was, let’s take a few moments to put it in perspective – to ask ourselves, when pondering our misery, what we’re comparing our it to?

Because we’ve had bad years before. There was 66,065,543 BC, when an asteroid wiped out the dinosaurs, along with three quarters of all other plant and animal species. There was 1347, when the bubonic plague hit Europe, eventually killing more than 25 million.

There was 1967, when paisley somehow seemed like a good idea, and, even more awful, 1970, when disco ran amok.

Meanwhile, in 2020 we discovered just how much we know about genetic engineering – enough to sequence a virus’s DNA and, in less than a year, engineer effective vaccines. Had we started trying to develop a COVID-19 vaccine ten years ago using the techniques available then, right about now we might have a vaccine worth testing.

Also in 2020 we discovered that, somewhere along the way, businesses either had already deployed or could deploy with relative ease the technologies needed for employees to collaborate with customers and clients, and each other, without needing to meet in person.

My first involvement with the business use of personal computers and computing was four decades ago. At the time, each personal computer required a separate capital proposal, complete with a financial Return on Investment (ROI) analysis.

In 2020 the business case for equipping employees with personal computers is “Don’t be ridiculous.”

So as we wrap up a year that was far from what we’d hoped it would be, let’s all ask each other to maintain perspective – to ask, no matter what the subject, “Compared to what?”

Because if we give an honest answer, for most of us and in most respects, while our situations are far from perfect, they’re closer to better than they are to worse.

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I hope you find ways to have a wonderful holiday season. Me? I’m going to take a couple of weeks off – see you in 2021.

In the meantime, if you’re in the mood for past years’ Holiday Cards to the Industry, here’s where you’ll find them in the Archives: https://issurvivor.com/?s=%22holiday+card+to+the+industry%22 .

I hope you take the time to enjoy them.

If you want to be more persuasive, what’s the single most important technique you can master?

No, it isn’t knowing more about the subject than your colleagues. It isn’t even knowing more about the subject this week than you knew last week.

Nice tries, though. But evidence and logic are shaky persuaders under the best of circumstances. If, in place of evidence and logic your expertise becomes the lead story, your audience likely won’t even pay attention to your evidence and logic.

How about threats? If the behavior of our political leaders provides any guidance, threatening those who disagree with severe consequences … ranging from ostracism to physical violence … would seem to be a high-payoff strategy.

But no.

On the national stage, various forms of intimidation do seem to be effective ways to keep political kin in line on an issue-by-issue basis. And yes, intimidation can be just as effective in a business setting, so long as you remember the ROT principle from the KJR Manifesto: Relationships Outlive Transactions.

Which is to say you might win a battle … a transaction … but if you win it through intimidation you damage relationships you might need to rely on later on in your tenure, when you need allies and not just grudging followers.

So yes, intimidation might get people to parrot a particular position you want them to espouse, but you won’t have convinced them you’re right. You’ll just have convinced them you’re to be avoided whenever possible.

Or ganged up on at the first opportunity.

Maybe you should sign up for a debating society, to hone your argumentative skills.

Maybe, but I don’t think so. The point of debating is to decide who’s the best debater, not which side of an argument is more valid. I’m as happy to cede the Star Debater Award in a disagreement as I am to cede the Star Baker award in the Great British Baking Show to, well, to just about anyone.

Give up? (You might as well. I’m going to keep on writing without having heard whatever you were about to propose.)

Now this is just my opinion, mind you: One of the most effective ways to be persuasive is to be wrong.

Not wrong about the subject in question. Not wrong about any specific subject, for that matter.

See, what’s hardest about getting someone to change their mind about a subject is that when I decide what opinion to espouse on a subject, inside I invest my ego in it, while outside I stake my reputation. No matter what you say, my self-esteem is linked to my having decided well and my prestige is at stake.

Which is why the answer to this week’s challenge is to be publicly, visibly, and cheerfully wrong about something from time to time.

Change your mind about subject A and you’ll be more persuasive about subject B, not less. That’s because changing your mind without any noticeable grief establishes that it’s okay to be persuaded.

And because you’re known to change your mind in the face of new evidence and a different way of thinking about things, that also means that when you don’t change your mind about a different subject you’re more likely to be right than someone who never admits to being wrong.

Bob’s last word: The most persuasive argument isn’t “My major premise is A. My minor premise is B. My conclusion is C.” No, the most persuasive argument is, “I used to think A. Then B explained C to me, and it completely changed my thinking about this.”

Bob’s sales pitch: Looking for the perfect seasonal gift? Sorry. Can’t help you.

But if you’re looking for one of the most unusual to give someone with unusual tastes, or a way to make a statement (I’ll leave it to you to decide what statement this makes), give the gift that will make them wonder just what you mist think of them: Bob and Dave’s far-from-best-selling novel about the notorious Wisconsin Rapids elephant murder – The Moral Hazard of Lime Daiquiris.