1 Sep 2014 | News

Probability Woes – What are the chances?

This Monday I won the lottery!

Oh yes, it was my turn to do the Monday Morning Presentation to the rest of the team!  Like I said, I had won huge.

The biggest challenge of these presentations is actually finding a subject that will not bore a diverse group of people.  Well that is what I find.  It sometimes feels that the others do not perceive this as a problem!

Anyway back to the boring stuff, I turned to my faithful book “The Art of Thinking Clearly” by Rolf Dobelli (well worth reading if you can).  I decided to talk about what Rolf calls the “Neglect of Probability”.  I could, like I did with the team, bore you with the details, but basically, our cognitive bias is to ignore probability when something very large is at stake – hence the reason that huge lotteries attract people.

What was interesting, however, was that during the course of the discussion, we went off topic and spoke about how best to win the lottery.  This is where you may want to pay attention.

The reality is that (without throwing large sums of money at the problem) you can’t increase your odds of winning a $30 million lottery.  What you can do though is decrease the odds that you would be sharing it with someone else (why settle for $15m when $30m will do).

Basically, the odds of a sequence of numbers being drawn is exactly the same.  So the chance of the numbers 3;4;5;6;7 being drawn is exactly the same as 8;17;44;36;29!  This is a mathematical fact.  So to increase the chance of not having to share the spoils, it is best to pick numbers that most people would not pick.  What are these numbers?

Well a lot of people will use dates in picking their numbers.  The majority of dates fall under 32 so best to avoid numbers below 32.

The other observation is most people will not believe consecutive numbers will be drawn.  So if you take consecutive numbers you will decrease the odds of sharing.

Good luck with it all.  Trust me, you will need luck, as the chance of winning is so miniscule.  Having said that, I have met someone who won big in the lottery.  What is the chance of that?

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