Thursday, June 13, 2013

Irrationality is Human

I think it would be foolish not to take irrationality seriously.What's worse is how we rationalize irrationality. I grew up thinking that rationality is noble virtue to be acquired because my environment was largely filled with people who gave more importance to emotions over rational approach. Years passed with me yet to acquire the elusive virtue.

Finally the moment arrived. True realization in serendipity. I realized the difference between rationality and rationalizing irrationality and much to surprise I realized that we as human beings have the uncanny ability to do it with ease even without realizing it.

My FMOT ( First Moment of Truth) was when i was trying buy a Television.. Like most men from Mars, I did trucks loads of research ( PMPO, inches, cost, offers) and narrowed down on one option.With great expectations, I walked into the store with  data in hand and all set to make the rational decision of buying Option A. The unexpected happened...The sensory experiences( great visuals and sound effects) took over  the rational approach.Much to my amazement I chose something that was different from the choice that I logically deduced as an option. At the moment, I rationalized my purchase decision for reasons that did not feature in my evaluation criteria.

That moment was the starting point of my search of the power of irrationality. I pondered to get some answers for my behavior. The revelation was possible through some insights that very stated by renowned cognitive psychologists in their books as well as my own self analysis - detaching myself from the decision and analyzing. The possible explanations that I could give to my decision making journey includes:

  1. Our cognitive capabilities are based different sensory based learning styles on one or more senses. In my case, I am more visual (dominant) and Kinesthetic based learner.. The visuals on Television and the ambiance did have an on my decision making process. Imagine a large 56 inch TV with gorgeous visuals... Why would you not be tempted?
  2. When faced with plenty of choices we rely on heuristics. In my case, the heuristics was that a good brand with  good ambiance and a good English speaking sales appearing to be knowledgeable can't get me to make  wrong decision. As Daniel Kahneman quotes in his book"Thinking Fast, Slow"- "The essence of intuitive heuristics: when faced with a difficult question, we often answer an easier one instead, usually without noticing the substitution". I might have substituted a convincing salesman for rational benefits.
Even in human relationships, it is important to accept irrationality in human behavior. The acceptance that irrationality is an integral part of human nature has helped me look at each event or stimuli with much more openness.  When I look at the following events, I am able to understand and appreciate human irrationality:
  1. In a restaurant when sitting in the same table, no two people will order the same food.
  2. Why we prefer some brands over the other
  3. How we decide candidate fitment in a 10 min interview?
  4. How judgmental we are about our colleagues or friends
  5. The way we associate intelligence to qualification, nationality, color.
  6. Our belief that our cognitive capabilities and memory functions are infinite.
As Dan Ariely says, we are predictably irrational.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Beware of Proverbs!!!

Have you ever lost an argument or got convinced with the argument based on some proverb/metaphors stated during the argument by the opponent.  Worse still, did you fret while pondering over the reason you gave up or accepted the argument for a metaphor used as substitution which may or not be relevant to the context.. If your answer is yes or if not clear with the above statement read on..

Lets say you have situation on hand. You are stuck deliberating on the road to be taken.

Option 1: A confirmed job in your own state that just about meets your expectations

Option: Moving to another country for a period of 2 weeks and looking for a job dream opportunity.

Context is King
It is quite natural that you will seek advice from your near and dear ones. Have you ever heard this metaphor from a wisecrack " A bird in hand is better than two in the bush". In that situation, this metaphor will push you into taking a safe default decision.

These are called as Generative Metaphors.They substitute for something easy to think about for something difficult.These generative metaphors gives us tangible simplified statements that acts as guidance systems for a complex situations. In complex situations, the brain looks for ways to simplify the problem and these metaphors does a convincing job.

My point is be aware of these metaphors used as substitutions.They serve as simple rule of thumb insensitive to the context in which you operate. Your context is the king and not these metaphors.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Illusion of confidence

Confidence, like art, never comes from having all the answers; it comes from being open to all the questions.

Kept wondering why “Confidence" is considered to be one of the most important factors in the game of life till I realized that we are oblivious to the fact that confidence is one of the heuristics we use to judge people. We come across different kinds of people in our day-day life and we are constantly expected to respond to various stimuli. We have no choice but to adapt to the situation by first assessing the situation using some heuristics and then choose our response.

Let’s say, we go to a party and meet some people. Invariably, we end up meeting some super confident individuals and our response/judgement  to that at a subconscious level would be:

  • Knowledgeable hence Genuine respect for the person or
  •  Get Intimidated
We live in such a competitive world that we have almost forgotten the virtue called reverence. It is becoming increasingly difficult to accept that somebody is more knowledgeable than you. But you judge somebody using a heuristic called “Confidence”. It is important to know that due to limitations in our cognitive capabilities, we are subject to illusion of confidence. What it means is that we tend to assume that somebody is knowledgeable if they sound confident. Most of often we would have judged candidates in an interview based on their confidence only to realize that there is a vast difference in projected capabilities versus actual.

It is very important that one does not fall prey to the illusion of confidence.   If you want to handle the illusion of confidence, here is a simple trick.

First of all, drop all you belief systems and pre-existing internal knowledge that you are likely form based on the stimuli and just increase your sensory acuity. Sensory acuity involves the ability to make refined sensory observations and this can happen if one can reduce or drop all preconceived notion/ pre-existing internal knowledge. Let me elaborate  the difference between power of sensory acuity versus how we lose out on valuable information because of preexisting filters. Ken Norris, a desert biologist, used his graduate students to observe a desert lizard.  While Norris has 6 pages of observation, his students had just one page. This was largely due to their preexisting knowledge. So what happens when you increase your sensory acuity? Just based on adjusting Physiology  ( changing body language)or eye accessing cues, one can access truthfulness or congruence. 

The second approach is to pose some simple unassuming questions on the same topic. Usually people who sounds confident without enough subject matter will get stuck at some point and will be exposed.

The next time you meet a super confident person do not fall for  the illusion of confidence. Take your time,observe and then judge them, confidently!!!

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Create more options to reduce EGO

What am going to write in my blog is something which  very common in the our day-day life.


Lets take for example a typical client - agency discussion. When a client gives a brief and when he views an output, he tends to expect for more options.  The argument in favor of the client is that they would need options to decide on the right approach. The same is true for strategy of a company to lunch menu for guests. We all expect options in whatever we consume so that we get a chance to choose the best.

For once I decided to look from the perspective of the provider of the service. Are they happy about giving many options? Not really. Going back to the first example of client agency discussions, the moment the client says that he needs options the agency guy starts to sulk. Why does he sulk?  For long I was thinking that reason for this attitude was either because of too many projects and less resources or he was lazy to give more options.

When I put this problem to my work scenario I was curious as to why I ended up sulking when both my hypothesis weren't true. It turns to be a reason which is completely oblivious to a surface level thinker. The reason is EGO.

I figured out that for a particular brief,if I generated one output then I end up placing my capabilities closer to the output. So when a person rejects the one output, I end up thinking as though they have rejected me. When there is only one option then it becomes a reflection of my capability. When somebody rejects it, my ego gets hurt.

Take another example.. Lets says your taking some food for pot luck. Naturally, you might take just one dish leaving the rest to others. I bet , at least for starters, one might be very nervous to get it right for the same reason stated above.

How to handle this?  Atleast for your own sake, try and create more options so that you don't attach your EGO to one thing. More the merry. With time you will realize that it is OK if your work is criticized  After all critics don't get statues in beach. You can benefit from somebody's criticism.

Go for more options.....

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Reduce weight by reducing white lies!!!

“Self-Consciousness is the enemy of interestingness" a lovely quote by Malcolm Gladwell... Not just the enemy of interestingness but basic integrity... We, human beings, are known to fudge facts on varying proportions when something affects our self-image.

It is very easy to put this theory to test. Walk up to an image conscious person who is obese /on the heavier side and give him a lecture on diet, food habits and exercise.

In just 30 sec into the discussion, you will see his self defense mechanism in full action. He will claim to have adopted the healthiest diet for the last one week and you will hear healthy food items like low calorie cereals, carrot, greens. When it comes to the exercise you will hear tall claims like regular visits to the gym, 7 km on treadmill, regular walks and what not… These tall claims quickly expose the person because it is easy to judge the truth in the statement based on the body language.

Honestly, I believe that the person who fabricates this story is not fully aware that he is fudging facts... When self-image is put to test even the smallest of the efforts in the right direction (visit to them gym once in 5 days) gets represented to gargantuan proportions in the mind and it appears as if the person is very sincere in his fitness regimen. The self defense mechanism is in full action because:

1.     It wants to protect the self-image at any cost.
2.     Pacify the mind that things are under control
3.     Stop the other person from any further advice.

Best way to handle this to first realize that white lies will get exposed quickly. Instead of protecting self-image for today/everyday, it’s better to realize that protecting self-image at the cost of action/activity is futile...

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Friday, September 21, 2012

Confidence of Ignorance!!!

Read this wonderful quote by Charles Darwin “Ignorance frequently begets confidence than Knowledge".

Let’s put this quote in the context of our daily work situations. Organizations are faced with a number of challenges and one among is to hire right kind of talent and make them successful.  The skill set requirements have vastly changed than how it was about 10 years ago. The advent of Internet revolution, eCommerce ,mobile penetration have changed the market landscape and new age companies are forced to look for different skill sets which are still emerging and no clear cut standards.

Most companies do not have a clear idea on what to look for in a candidate. Hence they go through a process of shortlisting of candidates and conducting interviews. Organizations put their best forward to get right candidates yet in at least 60% of hires (am statistically challenged hence I am pulling out a number which is more a figment of my imagination based on stories that I have heard) that happen there is a mismatch between expectation and actual capabilities when the rubber meets the road. 

Although the interview process is one of the time tested ways of selecting a candidate, why is that it fails?

In this blog I am attempting to look at one of the possible reasons for such high failures and this thought process is based on the concepts highlighted in the book “Invisible Gorilla" by Chris Chabris and Dan Simons.

Our Competency
Chris and Simon delve deeply about a concept called Illusion of Confidence... How much we think we actual know is very different from how much we know...

In an interview, unknowingly, the one thing that we, as recruiters, look for in candidates is their confidence.  More confident the candidate more the chances that he will be selected. The fault lies not in the confidence but our love for confidence. Since we are not clear on what kind of skill-sets are required we tend to use confidence as one of the heuristics for decision making. So when we see a candidate presenting himself confidently, our illusion of confidence takes over automatically continues till we face some incontrovertible evidences.

From the candidate's/employee's perspective it is very common that when he starts learning something new while his skill level is low his confidence is usually higher that he might sound over confident. Justin Kruger and David Dunning in their research call it as the double curse of incompetence: People who are unskilled are also unaware of it. And in some instances if the leader or manager pledges his ignorance by trusting the employee to take all the decisions hence  there is high probability that he is not going to be honest about what he knows and what he knows not. It builds up the employee’s ego to make people believe that he knows. This struggle continues till both the manager and employee face contradiction which exposes the employee.

What is the way out?

There are no straight forward answers. It is important to know that anybody and everybody can fall into the trap of illusion of confidence. Recognizing this illusion is the first step. Next step is when manager and employee face this contradiction it is important for the manager not to take some tough measures. Kruger and Dunning have found in their experiment that explaining to the subject (employee) on what went wrong and teaching them is one way of the ways to make them better judges of their competence.

Am sure we will begin to accept that we have been victims of illusions of Confidence.. Reflect this thought and  share if you have had experiences of this illusion.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Facing a Conflict? Don't simply trust your brains

How we think?
It is really fascinating to sit and understand how a human brain works. Every situation presents itself in a way worth exploring to understand and enjoy the complex thinking. Faced with a conflicting situation a person is bound to be anxious or guilty and starts to lament about what happened. The natural reaction from you side to such a stimuli is to use the arguments presented by the other person and offer solutions. This may or may not cut ice with the other person but one thing that you can be certain is that you have a biased version of the situation. Why do I call it a biased situation?  We believe that our brain is super perfect and rational but there are enough evidences to prove how biased we are and how we subject ourselves to memory illusions albeit unknowingly.

So I decided to do what most of the spiritual gurus advise us to do when faced with conflict... "Relax, take a deep breath and observe" the situation presented... What I discovered during this journey was something really fascinating.  I did make an extra attempt to corroborate this discovery with an experiment done by neuroscientist on how we respond when faced with anxiety or guilt... A clue  ..." Motivated reasoning"

Recently I received a call from one of my classmates. We were colleagues at work some years back. After exchanging pleasantries, we started talking about his current work... Soon into the conversation he started to complain a lot about work and how his ideas were never considered by the top management. I was able to infer that he was just out of an agonizing meeting and his work situation was very depressing. As we moved along in the conversation, the tone changed from anxiety to confidence... The conversation moved from how anxious he was about the fact that his ideas were not accepted to how his ideas made a lot of sense that the company would miss out on a lot of opportunities by not listening to his ideas... He was affirmative that he would be a passive bystander in all future meetings and pacified himself by saying that only intelligent folks will be able to understand his ideas better...

My intentions were not to evaluate the merit of his ideas rather I was more curious to know what was happening in his brain and what was he thinking

Two things that stood out in the conversations:
a. Emotions during the conversation swayed from anxiety to confidence or should I say false notion of confidence
b. When faced with an emotional constraint how the brain decided to handle it... Passive bystander

I will try and explore the first point in this blog... How did the emotions move from one extreme to another...? When confronted by a troubling situation, a network of neurons becomes active and produces distress. In this situation the brain starts to do something called as motivated reasoning or some kind of faulty reasoning to alleviate the distress. Dr.Drew Westen of Emory University quotes from his research “Neural circuits charged with regulation of emotional states seemed to recruit beliefs that eliminated the stress and conflicts". The surprising part is that not only does the brain works hard to reduce the distress but goes one step forward to make the person feel good by giving positive reinforcements to their biased reasoning.

In this case, my friend was able to present so called "logical reasoning" as to why his ideas were correct and further went to on state that the team were not intelligent enough to appreciate his ideas. This explains why the pendulum moved from anxiety to confidence.

When faced with this kind of situations it is prudent to Relax, breathe easy and come of the situation before you start analyzing the situation to take decisions or form opinions.

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