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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Sunday, September 02, 2012

Want to pursue your interests? Pre-commit or Meditate!!!

Its been a while since I wrote my last blog... It used to be a habit or some sort of determination to write a blog every week no matter what the priorities were in front of me.. Truth be told,my last blog was in Oct 2011. Its almost an year gone without a single blog. When I sat back in my armchair to think about what did I do to give up this wonderful habit to blog, I was left clueless..The usual excuses( Suspects) were

  • Have no time
  • Busy with some other worth
  • Work Pressure
  • running out of topics
Be aware
This applies to all of us. For me it was about blogging and for some of you it might about your Food diet or Physical exercise. There is one thing that is subliminally common to all these pursuits.All of these require some will power or self control to do these on a continually basis. Will Power or Self Control are functions of  System 2 of the brain. As Daniel Kahneman highlights in his book " Thinking Fast Slow", System 2 of the brain is responsible for reasoning, analytical abilities and self control.  

What does this got to do with my delay in writing a blog? When I started to think about it, I figured out a few clues.. 

Before I get to some possible answers here are some theories. Quoting from Daniel Kahneman's book Thinking Fast and Slow
  • System 1 and System are hypothetical separation mega structure of the brain
  • System 1 of the brain is an auto responder. It is automatic and Intuitive
  • System 2 functions including reasoning, self control, analysis
  • Most often we believe that our System 2 is dominant. That is to say we analyze and then respond
  • Unfortunately, this is not true. We respond and the rationalize
  • System 1 responds and then we attempt to rationalize. Classic example include familiar products are perceived to good.. No wonder advertisers are out to get our eyeball attention
  • System 1 can never be switched off. You can't stop it from doing its thing. System 2, on the other hand, is lazy and only becomes active when necessary. Slow, deliberate thinking is hard work. It consumes chemical resources in the brain, and people usually don't like that...
Now back to our problem.. What stopped me from pursuing my interests.. It turns out to be that  my active memory ( RAM) was occupied with a lot of day-day issues which inturn increases fear.Eventually most of the energy was spent on automatic response to handle these fears.This is called a Amygdala Hijack a term coined by Daniel Goleman to describe emotional responses from people which are immediate and overwhelming, and out of measure with the actual stimulus because it has triggered a much more significant emotional threat.!!! During these times, the energy required for fulfilling an intellectual task is depleted. Dan Ariely calls this as  Ego depletion. Will power is a limited resource and in the absence of energy,brain uses it auto response mechanism. In my case it turns out to be that the brain decided to give me a break from pursuing my interest. During these times, i was passively engaged in activities which does not require much of intellectual power.

Map it your pursuits, the same logic applies. What makes it worse is when you are on a guilt trip for not pursuing your interests. As Kelly McGongial states in her a book " Will Power Instinct", If you are hard on yourself for not having willpower the more you are likely to make mistakes again. This probably explains the reason for my procrastination. In some cases, due to ego depletion, people tend to succumb to their temptations like calorie rich food or anything that was programmed as forbidden in System 2.

What is the way out? 

Pre commitments: This is a wonderful  concept was suggested by Dan Ariely. Pre-commitments or Preemptive actions are some of check that we can keep on ourselves. If I want to continue writing my blog, what if I make a pre-commitment to one of my mentors every week on the topic that I am going write.Good possibility that I will strive  to keep up my word,atleast with my mentors :-)

This is certainly a short term solution. If we have to see a change then it needs to happen from within.

Meditation: If the active memory is not constantly battling the day-day fears, then good portion of the energy can be well spent on making the System 2 work. One of the ways to alleviate such fears is to live in the present. To live in the present one needs to widen the awareness to access a situation. Daniel Goleman presents a theory on how meditation increases awareness. Amygdala ( part of the brain) makes rapid judgments about a situation and has a powerful effect on our emotions and behaviour, linked to survival needs. With meditation, the prefrontal cortex, responsible for introspection and planning, has a better control over the signals that it receives from amydala. Individual who meditates regularly has better control on his/her response to a stimuli.. 

With a solid purpose in life and enough energy available in the brain to activate System 2, our pursuits on things that we are passionate about or that which is important for life is no longer a difficult pursuit..