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Belief in Beekeeping

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"If you think you can or you think you can’t, you are right"--Henry Ford
How does belief influence success?

As soon as you talk about belief affecting results, there is an assumption by some that you are being unscientific and yet all the current research on the success or failure of computer projects or any projects in a business environment has established the fact that success or failure is dependent on "buy in" from the employees and from management. Anyone who has observed scientific research can see this effect as well. Whether you want to believe it or not, "buy in" is "belief". Believing it can work, and believing it needs to work. There seems to be a group that thinks that belief has nothing to do with or should have nothing to do with success or failure, but only the "facts". But all the way from "the little engine that could" to real life stories of success like Edison testing thousands of filaments to come up with a practical light bulb illustrate that belief is equally important to the success of any undertaking.

Please, do not be confused by what I'm saying. I'm not saying that Edison could just "believe" any one of those filaments into working. But he had to believe that there was a filament that would work and that is what drove him to keep trying until he found one that would work. You can work as hard as you can and still fail. You can believe has much as is possible and still fail. It requires adjusting the details of your attempt to match what you discover about reality along the path. But without belief that what you are attempting is possible and worth doing, you will try one time and give up.

Cognitive Dissonance

I think part of this is that you can’t really operate well with a cognitive dissonance between what you are attempting to do and your view of the world. If you are attempting to do something that, in your view of the world, is impossible, it is very unlikely that you will succeed. If you believe there is a solution and you are focused on finding that solution within the framework of your view of the world, you will likely find something that will work. I did a page on "Beekeeping Philosophy" for that very reason. I think in order to succeed at beekeeping, you need to do your beekeeping in the framework of your beliefs.

It’s all in the details.

Success and failure of any venture is all in the details. And belief is what drives us to work out the details. I have said many times that I can prove most any controversial beekeeping question in either direction depending on what you want for an outcome. The reason it is controversial and the reason there are two directly opposing beliefs on so many subjects is exactly that--that success or failure is dependent, not on the underlying principle being discussed, but the surrounding circumstances. Someone whose experience was under one set of circumstances comes to one conclusion. Someone whose experience is under a very different set of circumstances comes to an entirely different conclusion.

Example of details

Let’s take it out of the realm of beekeeping. I’ll try this two ways, the first is the way it actually happened. A friend called up to tell me that her pressure tank on her well pump was leaking and wanted to know what she should do. I said it was probably one spot in the tank that lost whatever rust proofing the inside of the tank had and it had rusted through. I said I would:

  • Buy a fine threaded self tapping oil plug.
  • Buy a bit exactly the size of the shaft (not the threads) of the plug or slightly smaller.
  • Buy some gasket sealer.
  • Drill out the rust spot.
  • Put gasket sealer on the plug.
  • Screw the plug in the hole.
When I told her this, I was informed "we already tried that". So I went over and looked at her tank. There was a lag screw in the hole... and of course it was still leaking horribly. I then did exactly as I had instructed and fixed it. It lasted at least five or six years after that. Did it work because of my belief? No, but my belief is what gave me the path to success. I believed it was possible and adjusted the details to the reality of the situation.

Now let’s try the other way. I also could have just told her to put a bolt in it. It would have been technically correct, but lacking in the details that would actually make it work. But since she ignored the details anyway, I guess it would have worked exactly as poorly. But now let’s look at this another way. Why did my "put a bolt in it" work and hers did not? Because I did everything I could to stack the deck in favor of success. Why? Because I believed it could work and therefore I made the effort to make it work. I did not do a halfhearted "we’ll try it and see". I went at it from the start with the belief and expectation of succeeding and then doing whatever I could to make what I believed could happen, happen. Then, even if that had failed, I had several backup plans (one of which I used and again succeeded with years later when the threads finally rusted out on that fix).

My point is that "buy in" i.e. "belief" has everything to do with success. Now I will grant that however much she might have believed that lag bolt would stop the leak (and I don’t think she really did), it never would have. But if she had focused on how to make it work, she might have succeeded by tweaking the details of the idea to optimize its chances of success and finally made it work. That tweaking of course improves with experience and sometimes it takes some experimenting to find the right details (Edison and his thousands of filaments). But you can also improve it a lot by listening to someone who has done it before (I've fixed rusted out holes in tanks for decades now and that’s how I knew what would have a good chance of working). The same is true of beekeeping.

"People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it."--George Bernard Shaw

Rather than work the details out yourself, learn from someone who already has.

Part of belief leading to success is that it gives you the drive to not just give something a cursory try, but to work out the details. And this brings me to another point of frustration for me. That almost every time someone does an experiment on virtually anything they don’t bother to find someone succeeding and ask them about the details before they set up an experiment to prove it doesn't work. Pretty much if you don't believe in it, it probably isn't going to work because you won't make it work. Why not find someone who is succeeding and study them to figure out if it works and then why it works. At that point you will believe it works (because you have observed it) and have an idea how to make it work by copying someone who has succeeded. For instance, if you want to know something about natural cell size why not talk to someone with hundreds of hives with natural comb in them rather than blunder out on your own? What size the bees build depends on a lot of different things like the time of year, the intended use for the comb etc. So again, I say I can probably get you whatever results you would like because I know what affects it and I can set the stage to get what you want, in this case, larger or smaller.

You can’t get the right answer when you are asking the wrong question.

One of the things I loved in "I Robot" was how often the hologram that is talking to Will Smith says "I'm sorry. My responses are limited. You must ask the right questions." Anytime your question is vague or your criteria are vague your results will be meaningless. Let’s try a simple mistake I made myself. When I started out beekeeping, I was too poor to buy any books and a lot of the ones at the library were old ones like Doolittle and Miller. One of the concepts in those books was "abandonment" as a means of clearing the supers. I was inexperienced and oblivious to when the flows were and when I tried the method, it turned into an unmitigated disaster. Robbing escalated to scary and out of control in a matter of minutes and I fought robbing for weeks after. I was never going to do that again. Rather than believe their might be some value to this method I gave it a one time try and gave it up.

Then I ran into someone who used the method all the time and when I shared my experience they told me it needs to be done in a flow. Never in a dearth. Now that gap between my experience and what was in the book suddenly closed. I could see how someone would think it was a good method and yet my experience was exactly the opposite. So if my question is just "does the abandonment method work well for clearing supers", I have not asked the right question. It is too vague and my results will not be useful, as other people's results will vary greatly from mine depending on other factors that are not taken into account in my question. I may come to a very distinct and obvious conclusion that is very incorrect. Faith in C.C. Miller or the method might have driven me to ask the right question rather than give up. There are probably two questions I need to answer on the issue of abandonment, in order for my answer to have any meaning:

  • "does the abandonment method work well for clearing supers in a dearth"
  • "does the abandonment method work well for clearing supers in a flow"

(By the way, most beekeeping questions should be asked either about "in a flow" and in a "dearth" or in the "buildup" or in the "wind down".)

If I didn't know enough to formulate those questions based on the fact that currently there are such opposing views on the subject then the question should have been:

  • "under what circumstances does the abandonment method work well for clearing supers and under what circumstances does it fail"
Then I might end up with a useful answer instead of a meaningless one. In my experience, people often end up with an answer that is not useful because they are asking the wrong question.

"All models are wrong, but some are useful" --George E.P. Box
Paradigm vs Reality

So let’s tie this back to our "model of the world". Reality is infinitely complex and none of us can actually grasp it, so to solve problems we distill it down to some simplified "model" that we believe includes all the relevant issues. This "model" is the paradigm by which we solve the problem. Let’s try a simple practical model. My dad always told me that what it takes to make an internal combustion engine run is: gas, air and spark. If you have these three it should start. This worked most of my life most of the time, until the problem was a jumped timing chain. At that point I had to expand my "model", my "paradigm" to include timing. I need gas air spark and correct timing. Then when you have a small single piston engine with a broken ring or a bad valve, you may have to expand it to include "compression". Now there are many other things taking place, but that’s not the point. The point is we build a model just complex enough to solve the problem because we can’t take everything into account. This particular model is just on how to get it to start. After that there are other paradigms on how to make it run well. Sometimes we find our paradigm is inadequate for the job and we need to adjust it. Our "model of the world" is never "right", it’s never "true"--it’s just useful or not useful for the problem at hand. But conversely if we try to solve a problem in a way that is at odds with our model of the world (our personal belief system) we don’t really know how to tweak the details to make it work because we are outside the bounds of our paradigm in the unknown. Unless we adjust our paradigm, we probably can’t make a solution work that is at odds with our model. In other words if we don't believe in our model we probably can't work out the details of the solution.

I had a boss once who theorized that everyone thinks their idea is best because they thought of it. He didn't mean it facetiously, the reason they thought of it is because they used their model of the world to come up with it, and the reason they like it best, is because it is in harmony with their model of the world. Their solution makes sense to them because they arrived at it within that framework. The reason it has a decent chance of success for that person is also that they know how to work in that framework and they have "buy in" to the idea. They "believe" in it because it fits how they think.

Succeeding at anything is much more likely if you are working within your belief system.

Succeeding at anything is also much more likely if you are determined to figure out how to make it work.

Michael Bush

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Copyright 2015 by Michael Bush

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