Rough draft of “Almost” and “Cromwell’s rule”


A great tool to soften your message and also – to disagree without disagreeing.

The great John Maynard Keynes uses “almost” 40 times in his Treatise on Probability – presumably a book devoted to precise mathematical matters. Heres’s a handful of examples:

He may be almost certain, that is to say, that there will not be new taxes…

The judgments of probability, upon which we depend for almost all our beliefs in matters of experience…

almost entirely confined in its influence to England…

But qualifications so worded would raise almost as many difficulties as they solved

Boole was almost certainly led into this error through supposing that…

Keynes, undoubtedly a gentleman, almost always leaves some wiggle room for the opposite argument.  In his letter to Friedrich Hayek, an economist as renowned as Keynes himself,he writes about the idea of central planning:

But the curse is that there is also an important section who could almost be said to want planning not in order to enjoy its fruits but because morally they hold ideas exactly the opposite of yours, and wish to serve not God but the devil.

I can almost agree that his view on central planning is no different from Hayek’s.  And I can almost believe that these two economists’ worldview could be reconciled.

In a meeting it is a winning move to counter the argument with “I can almost agree with you…”.  It keeps your opponent’s and the audience’s mind open, it shows your willingness to accept your opponent’s viewpoint if only he or she supplies a bit more color.

Also, see Cromwell’s rule

Cromwell’s rule

I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible that you may be mistaken.

Oliver Cromwell wrote these to the synod of the Church of Scotland and I leave it to your curiosity to figure out the precise context of the message.

Cromwell’s rule leaves a non-zero likelihood  that your confidence can be overturned by a new argument, new evidence or data. Do not leave this door open too wide: do be always prepared to counter the new argument with your own,  but also – do be prepared to accept it, or at least consider accepting it  on its merits. The possibility that you may be mistaken saves you from the embarrassment often arising from overconfidence.   

Also, see  Almost