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We’re all individuals

By August 2, 2022September 21st, 2022No Comments

I bought these from the National Portrait Gallery in London.

We’re all individuals! (Yes! We’re all individuals!)

So, what are the odds?

The chances of an ordinary pack of cards – four suits, 52 cards – being in a particular order is pretty low.. By which I mean, mind-blowingly low. 52! aka 52 Factorial aka 52 x 51 x 50 etc etc til 3 x 2 x 1 = 80658175170943878571660636856403766975289505440883277824000000000000

To get a sense of how large a number that is, here’s how Brian Czepiel lays it out. Start by imagining it as a number of seconds – tick, tick, tick – that are counting down.

Start shuffling your deck of cards. Every billion years, deal yourself a 5-card poker hand. Each time you get a royal flush, buy yourself a lottery ticket. A royal flush occurs in one out of every 649,740 hands. If that ticket wins the jackpot (1 in 45,057,474 for a lotto with numbers 1-59), throw a grain of sand into the Grand Canyon. Keep going and when you’ve filled up the canyon with sand (estimated capacity 40 billion cubic meters with a grain of sand occupying approximately 1 cubic millimeter), remove one ounce of rock from Mt. Everest. Now empty the canyon and start all over again. When you’ve levelled Mt. Everest (and Mt. Everest weighs about 357 trillion pounds), begin all over again, because the timer’s still ticking. In fact, the timer would finally reach zero sometime during your 256th attempt.

But here’s what I find amazing. When you’re dealt a hand of cards, there’s nothing noticeably odd about it. The odds are high, but the oddness is not. We recognize the suits, the numbers, the face cards, and we sort and make sense of the cards we’re holding.

[There have been 117 billion humans who’ve lived the last two hundred thousand years or so. 8 billion of them – you, me, et cetera – are still around. It’s a number well below 52!, but still: that makes you not a “one in a million” but a “one in a billion+” person]. See, you ARE amazing and you’re doing great.

And yet you’re not weird. Well, not too weird 😳. 

You’re like a shuffled pack of cards (unrepeatable) and also like a dealt hand of cards (understandable and predictable-ish)

It’s one of the great paradoxes. What’s the balance between “me” and “we?”

Here’s how I see it. We work on being the magnificent, fabulous individuals that we can be. We seek the full version of our quirks and our potential. But we do that so we can best contribute to the human experience, so that we can give and we can serve. We best the best “me” so we can contribute fully to the “we.”

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Michael Bungay Stanier

Michael Bungay Stanier

I'm the author of five books that have collectively sold more than a million copies. I'm the founder of Box of Crayons, a learning and development company that helps organizations move from advice-driven to curiosity-led. I'm the host of the *2 Pages with MBS* podcast.