No matter who you are–black, white, Hispanic, French, Executive, Gen X, Retiree–the way you think is wrong. Oh, I left out Democrat or Republican. Our brains are truly wonderful things. They are efficient processors of information. There are a lot of tools that our brains us to make us more efficient and effective in our daily lives of being human. I call all of these, generally, being on autopilot. Being on autopilot is your enemy in terms of controlling your future. Being on autopilot is also your friend in terms of making you more efficient at all the things you have to do in daily life. The key is to learn the tricks your mind plays on you and to learn to turn these tools on and off to make better judgements when appropriate.
Let Me Be More Specific
Our brains use a number of tools or shortcuts that help us process information:
- Halo Affect: assumption that because someone is good at doing one thing, s/he will be good at doing other things
- Availability Heuristic: assumption that because you think of something more frequently it is more likely to happen
- Generalizations: assumption that people, challenges, mistakes, organizations, . . . pretty much everything . . . are just like the ones we have already experienced. We tend to generalize trustworthiness, bad intentions, skills, incompetence, etc. based on other similarities. Examples: Asians are smart, Senior executives are bad, old people are degenerating, Gen X’s are . . . (depending on your view).
- Illusion of Understanding: assumption that familiarity with something means you understand it
- Hindsight bias: the tendency to view things as more predictable than they are
- Motivated forgetting: re-remembering things to avoid blame
- Overconfidence bias: the belief that your abilities are greater than they are–80% of drivers believe that they are in the top 30% of drivers
- Recency bias: giving more credibility to more recent data–the last presenter, the last candidate, the last answer
- Clustering illusion: seeing patterns where none exist
We All Do It
All of us use these tools. They were developed back in the day when we lived in caves and hunted. They are tools that help us make instant decisions without a lot of effort. The problem is that they don’t work as well with today’s problems as when we were outrunning lions and tigers and bears. The worst part about them is that we are generally unaware of them. We value eyewitness testimony over other kinds of evidence, even though it is highly defective. We choose candidates like us because we are generalizing and making assumptions at the subconscious level without really evaluating the basis for our assumptions. We take risks based on shortcuts our brains make without even being aware of them.
What Can You Do?
The best thing to do is to educate yourself about these “tricks” that your mind plays. There are several great books that can help:
- Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
- Blink, The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell
- The Power of Impossible Thinking, Transform the Business of Your Life and the Life of Your Business by Yoram Wind and Colin Cook
- Sources of Power, How People Make Decisions by Gary Klein
Learn to take control of the way you think by practicing. Ask yourself, “Why do I think this?” “How do I know this?” “How can I think of this differently?”