The Eternal Question: Half-Full or Half-Empty


Glass Half Full

Since the time of Plato, people have curiously debated whether or not the proverbial glass is half-full or half-empty.  On this wondrous subject,  Harry Truman once said: “A pessimist is one who makes difficulties of his opportunities and an optimist is one who makes opportunities of his difficulties.”  Along these same lines, James Cabell mused: “The optimist proclaims that we live in the best of all possible worlds; and the pessimist fears this is true.”

Well, as the story goes, a few months ago I was sitting around the office with a pie-in-the-sky mentally debating a particular idea with a colleague, but doing so in the context of leadership.  Then, like a brick from the clouds, an insight hit me with an incredible force.  The idea was so simple, yet profound.

Recalling that event, I leaned forward and said: “Why don’t we just Google some of the key words associated with our conversation and look at the hit rates to see what other people think about the subject?”  Needless to say, my colleague had that glazed over look in his eyes.  You know, the kind of look that says the other person is a nut-case.  To humor me, he responded favorably.

To test this theory, I picked two words that are naturally opposite in nature — happy and sad.  I noted the total search volume after entering each word into the search bar.  The result of both queries are displayed in Exhibit 1.0.  As you can see, the word happy is searched far more often (77%) than the word sad (23%).  Of course, the context of such usage is unknown, but that’s beside the point.  The big take-away is that words are analogous to shards of pottery.

Exhibit 1.0. Happy-Sad Search Volume

Just like when an archeologist uncovers tiny shards and then assembles the broken pieces into a pot, certain things can be made more clear — like what the pot was used for during that era.  Well, when the hit-rate of words can be made known, certain things can be made more clear.

Of course, when a great many pieces of evidence are uncovered and subsequently assembled into different types of pots, tools, chairs and so on, its possible to gain many insights into that ancient civilization’s culture.  For example, how they lived, what they ate, how they made things.

Taking this concept a step farther, I then began pondering the idea of using the archeological approach to gain insight into the eternal question: “Is the glass half-full or half-empty?”  To gain such an insight, I first identified a host of commonly used everyday words that reflect the positive, like optimist, good, right and so on.  Next, I found the antonym (opposite) for each positive word, like good versus bad.  Thus, my laundry list of word-pairs each had a positive and corresponding negative connotation.

After making the list, I did a quick Google search on each word for all my word-pairs. Doing so gave me the total search volume of each word, as well as for the word-pair.  Essentially, the search volume told me how many “hits” a certain word had during a given period of time.  Needless to say, the outcomes of this quasi-research shook my foundation.

I fully expected a 50/50 split, or somewhere in that neighborhood.  Initially my thought was that some of the word-pairs would be biased toward the positive and others leaning to the negative.  What I discovered was that the positive side of things prevailed by a significant amount when considering all of the word pairs.  In fact, the net effect was 3 to 1 in favor of the optimistic viewpoint.  Exhibit 2.0 displays the results.

Google Search Volume (Optimist vs Pesimist)

Exhibit 2.0. Google Search Volume of Word-Pairs

As you can imagine, these results should not be taken lightly, especially with the search engine hit-rate running in the billions of people from all over the globe.  Of course, I sliced and diced the data in several ways, but the outcome was about the same – the positive would consistently win over the negative.  In short, the evidence strongly suggested the glass is half-full.

Well, it don’t take a rocket scientist to understand that these numbers can be related to human nature – thanks to the Internet and Google.  Granted, a more scientific method of inquiry would need to be designed and executed to really dig out the cross correlations, levels of significance, chi-square values and all the other statistical mambo-jumbo, but the sheer mass of data is most compelling and convincing.

In summary, the possibilities for such a methodology are astounding.  Perhaps for the first-time in human history, we can capture the Voice-of-the-People (VOP), not just locally or nationally, but globally — for anything, to any depth.  Individually, we may not know, but perhaps collectively we do.  So, the Vulcan Mind-Meld may not be such a  far-fetched idea after all.

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About Mikel Harry

Dr. Harry has been widely recognized in many of today's notable publications as the Co-Creator of Six Sigma and the world's leading authority within this field. His book entitled Six Sigma: The Breakthrough Management Strategy Revolutionizing the World’s Top Corporations has been on the best seller list of the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Business Week, and Amazon.com. He has been a consultant to many of the world’s top senior executives, such as Jack Welch, former CEO and Chairman of General Electric Corporation. Dr. Harry has also been a featured guest on popular television programs, such as the premier NBC show "Power Lunch." He is often quoted in newspapers like USA Today and interviewed by the media, such as The Economic Times. In addition, Dr. Harry has received many distinguished awards in recognition of his contributions to industry and society. At the present time, Dr. Harry is Chairman of the Six Sigma Management Institute and CEO of The Great Discovery, LLC.
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