💎 How empathising can lead to immoral decisions

Take the following study carried out by another psychologist. In this experiment, a series of volunteers first heard the sad story of Sheri Summers, a ten-year-old suffering from a fatal disease. She’s on the waiting list for a life-saving treatment, but time’s running out. Subjects were told they could move Sheri up the waiting list, but they’re asked to be objective in their decision. Most people didn’t consider giving Sheri an advantage. They understood full well that every child on that list was sick and in need of treatment. Then came the twist. A second group of subjects was given the same scenario, but was then asked to imagine how Sheri must be feeling: Wasn’t it heartbreaking that this little girl was so ill? Turns out this single shot of empathy changed everything. The majority now wanted to let Sheri jump the line. If you think about it, that’s a pretty shaky moral choice. The spotlight on Sheri could effectively mean the death of other children who had been on the list longer.

Excerpt from: Humankind: A Hopeful History by Rutger Bregman

💎 Rather than trying to clear the decks, instead decline to clear the decks and instead focus on what’s of greatest consequence

In my days as a paid-up productivity geek, it was this aspect of the whole scenario that troubled me the most. Despite my thinking of myself as the kind of person who got things done, it grew painfully clear that the things I got done most diligently were the unimportant ones, while the important ones got postponed — either forever or until an imminent deadline forced me to complete them, to a mediocre standard and in a stressful rush. The email from my news-paper’s IT department about the importance of regularly changing my password would provoke me to speedy action, though I could have ignored it entirely. (The clue was in the subject line, where the words ‘PLEASE READ’ are generally a sign you needn’t bother reading what follows.) Mean-while, the long message from an old friend now living in New Delhi and research for the major article I’d been planning for months would get ignored, because I told myself that such tasks needed my full focus, which meant waiting until I had a good chunk of free time and fewer small-but-urgent tasks tugging at my attention. And so, instead, like the dutiful and efficient worker I was, I’d put my energy into clearing the decks, cranking through the smaller stuff to get it out of the way — only to discover that doing so took the Whole day, that the decks filled up again overnight anyway, and that the moment for responding to the New Delhi email or for researching the milestone article never arrived. One can waste years this way, systematically postponing precisely the things one cares about the most.

What’s needed instead in such situations, I gradually came to understand, is a kind of anti-skill: not the counter-productive strategy of trying to make yourself more efficient, but rather a willingness to resist such urges — to learn to stay with the anxiety of feeling overwhelmed, of not being on top of everything, without automatically responding by trying to fit more in. To approach your days in this fashion means, instead of clearing the decks, declining to clear the decks, focusing instead on what’s truly of greatest consequence while tolerating the discomfort of knowing that, as you do so, the decks will be filling up further, with emails and errands and other to-dos, many of which you may never get round to at all. You’ll sometimes still decide to drive yourself hard in an effort to squeeze more in, when circumstances absolutely re-quire it. But that won’t be your default mode, because you’ll no longer be operating under the illusion of one day making time for everything.

Excerpt from: Four Thousand Weeks: Embrace your limits. Change your life by Oliver Burkeman

💎 On work expanding to fill the time available

The same goes for chores: in her book More Work for Mother, the American historian Ruth Schwarty Cowan shows that when housewives first got access to ‘laboursaving’ devices like washing machines and vacuum cleaners, no time was saved at all, because society’s standards of cleanliness simply rose to offset the benefits; now that you could return each of your husband’s shirts to a spotless condition after a single wearing, it began to feel like you should, to show how much you loved him. Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion, the English humorist and historian C. Northcote Parkinson wrote in 1955, coining w became known as Parkinson’s law. But it’s not merely a joke and it doesn’t apply only to work. It applies to everything that needs doing. In fact, it’s the definition of what needs doing that expands to fill the time available.

Excerpt from: Four Thousand Weeks: Embrace your limits. Change your life by Oliver Burkeman

💎 There is no moment in the future when you’ll magically be done with everything

The same logic, Abel points out, applies to time. If you try to find time for your most valued activities by first dealing with all the other important demands on your time, in the hope that there’ll be some left over at the end, you’ll be disappointed. So if a certain activity really matters to you – a creative project, say, though it could just as easily be nurturing a relationship, or activism in the service of some cause – the only way to be sure it will happen is to do some of it today, no matter how little, and no matter how many other genuinely big rocks may be begging for your attention. After years of trying and failing to make time for her illustration work, by taming her to-do list and shuffling her schedule, Abel saw that her only viable option was to claim time instead – to just start drawing, for an hour or two, every day, and to accept the consequences, even if those included neglecting other activities she sincerely valued. If you don’t save a bit of your time for you, now, out of every week,’ as she puts it, ‘there is no moment in the future when you’ll magically be done with everything and have loads of free time.’ This is the same insight embodied in two venerable pieces of time management advice: to work on your most important project for the first hour of each day, and to protect your time by scheduling ‘meetings’ with your-self, marking them in your calendar so that other commitments can’t intrude. Thinking in terms of ‘paying yourself first’ transforms these one-off tips into a philosophy of life, at the core of which lies this simple insight: if you plan to spend some of your four thousand weeks doing what matters most to you, then at some point you’re just going to have to start doing it.

Excerpt from: Four Thousand Weeks: Embrace your limits. Change your life by Oliver Burkeman

💎 Don’t remove a seemingly foolish long-standing custom or institution until you understand its intended purpose

This rule is known as Chesterton’s fence, after G. K. Chesterton, the British writer who proposed it in an essay in 1929. Imagine you discover a road that has a fence built across it for no particular reason you can see. You say to yourself, “Why would someone build a fence here? This seems unnecessary and stupid, let’s tear it down.” But if you don’t understand why the fence is there, Chesterton argued, you can’t be confident that it’s okay to tear it down. Long-standing customs or institutions are like those fences, he said. Naive reformers look at them and say, “I don’t see the use of this; let’s clear it away.” But more thoughtful reformers reply, “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.”

Excerpt from: The Scout Mindset: The Perils of Defensive Thinking and How to Be Right More Often by Julia Galef

💎 Why seeking perfection may be an imperfect strategy (a Golf lesson)

In golf, perfection is represented by a hole in one. I mean, even I know that. But recently I was fascinated to discover that most professional players don’t aim for that particular metric. Instead, they try to leave the ball stiff: a foot or so beneath the hole. This gives them a chance of an easy putt uphill, whereas if they try to be too precise, there’s a risk they end up above the hole with a more difficult downhill shot.

Occasionally, the ball will go straight in, but this is usually the unintentional result of a bad shot! Likewise, a less accomplished player will sometimes aim for the flag, but any direct hits will be greatly outnumbered by misses. That’s why you’ve never heard of the world record holder for holes in one (Texan player Mancil Davies has achieved 51 but has never got beyond journeyman status because of the erratic nature of his technique).

The point is that the top pros don’t aim for perfection every time. They aim to get 90% of the way there because they know that – over the course of a round, a tournament or a career – this will produce better results than shooting for 100%.

Excerpt from: Go Luck Yourself: 40 ways to stack the odds in your brand’s favour by Andy Nairn

💎 An unintended consequence of Uber

Among other things, Uber has made it far easier for party-goers to get home safely. A study published in 2017 found that after Uber’s arrival in Portland, Oregon, alcohol-related car crashes declined by 62%. But at the same time, the spread of ride-hailing apps may have tempted people to drink to excess, knowing that they won’t beat the wheel. A study published in November 2019 by three economists – Jacob Burgdorf and Conor Lennon of the University of Louisville, and Keith Teltser of Georgia State University – found that the widespread availability of ride-sharing apps had indeed made it easier for the late-night crowd to binge.

By matching data on Uber’s availability with health Surveys from America’s Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, the authors found that on average alcohol consumption rose by 3%, binge drinking (in which a person downs four or five-drinks in two hours) increased by 8%, and heavy drinking (defined as three or more instances of binge drinking in a month) surged by 9% within a couple of years of the ride-hailing company coming to town. Increases were even higher in cities without public transport, where the presence of Uber led average drinking to rise by 5% and instances of binge drinking to go up by around 20%. (heavy drinking still rose by 9%.) Remarkably, excessive drinking had actually been in decline before Uber’s appearance, giving further evidence that the firm’s arrival affected behavior.

Excerpt from: Unconventional Wisdom: Adventures in the Surprisingly True by Tom Standage

💎 On the importance of an eclectic mix of stimuli if we’re to have an interesting point of view

Talking of which, another strategist called Russell Davies does a talk on “How to be interesting”. And guess what metaphor he uses – albeit in a very different way?

“We need to have lots of random hooks and loops,” he says. “If we read the same old books, we get to know more about the thing we know lots about already. We need to subscribe to magazines that we wouldn’t normally subscribe to; we need to go to places that we wouldn’t normally go to, eat at places that may not be our kind of place. We stay interesting when we don’t just stay in our groove. We keep pushing; we leave what we know behind for a bit. Velcro goes in many different directions in order to make a connection. If we are interested in new ideas so should we.”

Excerpt from: Go Luck Yourself: 40 ways to stack the odds in your brand’s favour by Andy Nairn

💎 On the danger of taking answers to surveys at face value

to discount with WEIRD logic. “We can ask a consumer what’s most important for them when they pick out an insurance policy, and people will give us the standard answers: it’s the cost, the expected return, the service, that people are friendly, and all of that,” Glottrup said. “But when we pose the second line of questioning-what did you pay in costs last year, what was your return, when was the last time you actually used our service? – people will go blank. They will have no answer [so] these things simply cannot be the reason.”

Excerpt from: Anthro-Vision: How Anthropology Can Explain Business and Life by Gillian Tett

💎 On the creative benefits of thinking like a child

Einstein was a great fan of this technique. He said that: “To stimulate creativity, one muse develops the childlike inclination for play.” Researchers at the North Dakota State University agree. They conducted an experiment where they asked 76 undergraduates what they would do if college were cancelled for the day. The interesting bit was that half of them were encouraged to think as if they were seven years old. These students were found to give much more creative responses than the control group.

Excerpt from: Go Luck Yourself: 40 ways to stack the odds in your brand’s favour by Andy Nairn

💎 The law of least effort

A general “law of least effort “applies to cognitive as well as physical exertion. The law asserts that if there are several ways of achieving the same goal, people will eventually gravitate to the least demanding course of action. … Laziness is built deep into our nature.

Excerpt from: Friction: The Untapped Force That Can Be Your Most Powerful Advantage by Roger Dooley

💎 It’s as if the less we know, the more we try and dress things up in complicated sounding terms

Another of the wise men whose voice appears in these pages, the physicist Richard Feynman, once remarked that many fields have a tendency for pomposity, to make things seem deep and pro­ found. It’s as if the less we know, the more we try to dress things up with complicated-sounding terms. We do this in countless fields, from sociology to philosophy to history to economics – and it’s def­initely the case in business. I suspect that the dreariness in so much business writing often stems from wanting to sound as though we have all the answers, and from a corresponding unwillingness to recognize the limits of what we know. Regarding a particularly self­ important philosopher, Feynman observed:

It isn’t the philosophy that gets me, it’s the pomposity. If they’d just laugh at themselves! If they’d just say, “I think it’s like this, but von Leipzig thought it was like that, and he has a good shot at it, too”.

Excerpt from: The Halo Effect: How Managers let Themselves be Deceived by Phil Rosenzweig

💎 Interesting test in Estonia to reduce speeding

Time is money. That, at least, is the principle behind an innovative scheme being tested in Estonia to deal with dangerous driving. During trials that began in 2019, anyone caught speeding along the road between Tallinn and the town of Rapla was stopped and given a choice. They could pay a fine, as usual, or take a ‘timeout’ instead – waiting going when stopped. In other words, they could pay the fine in time rather than money.

The aim of the experiment was to see how drivers perceive speeding, and whether loss of time might be a stronger deterrent than loss of money. The project is a collaboration between Estonia’s Home Office and the police force, and is part of a program designed to encourage innovation in public services. Government teams propose a problem they would like to solve – such as traffic accidents caused by irresponsible driving – and work under the guidance of an innovation unit. Teams are expected to do all fieldwork and interviews themselves.

Excerpt from: Unconventional Wisdom: Adventures in the Surprisingly True by Tom Standage

💎 How economics affects culture – in the 1950s average duration of US pop songs dropped to 2:30

We’ve been here before, where the business affected the show (or the tail wagged the dog). The first iteration of the phonograph could only hold about two to three minutes of music. It is said Puccini used to deliberately write arias that could be cut into three-minute segments that could fit on one side of a 78-rpm disc, arguably making him the first ever pop writer. Elderton notes that during the late 1950s and early 1960s, the average duration of American pop songs fell to 2 minutes and 30 seconds. As the mafia owned and controlled jukeboxes across America, they insisted that a record was limited to 2 minutes 30 seconds, allowing them to boost their take-per­ machine considerably.

Excerpt from: Tarzan Economics: Eight Principles for Pivoting through Disruption by Will Page

💎 How language can shape our attitudes and behaviours

Consider an example from the insurance world. Back in the 1930s, executives at the Hartford Fire Insurance Company in Connecticut realized that warehouses which contained oil drums kept blowing up. Nobody knew why. The company asked a fire-prevention engineer named Benjamin Whorf to investigate. Although Whorf was a trained chemical engineer, he had also done research in anthropology and linguistics at Yale, with a focus on the Hopi Native American communities. So, he approached the problem with an anthropologist’s mindset: he observed warehouse workers, noting what they did and said, crying to absorb everything without prior judgment. He was particularly interested in the cultural assumptions embedded in language, since he knew these could vary. Consider seasons. In English, “season” is a noun, defined by the astronomical calendar (“summer starts on June 20,” people say). In the Hopi language and worldview “summer” is an adverb defined by heat, not the calendar (it feels “summer(y)”). Neither is better or worse; but they are different. People cannot appreciate this distinction unless they compare. Or as Whorf observed: “We always assume that the linguistic analysis made by our group reflects reality better than it does.”

This perspective solved the oil drum mystery. Whorf noticed that the workers were careful when handling oil drum marked as “full.” However, workers happily smoked in rooms that stored drums “empty.” The reason? The word “empty” in English is associated with “nothing”; it seems boring, dull, and easy to ignore. However, “empty” oil drums are actually full of flammable fumes. So, Whorf told the warehouse managers to explain the dangers of “empty” to workers and explosions stopped. Science alone could not solve the mystery. But cultural analysis-with science-could. The same principle (namely using antho-vision to see what we ignore) is equally valuable when mysterious problems erupt in modern bank trading floors, corporate mergers, or pandemics, say.

That is because, “the least questioned assumptions are often the most questionable,” as the nineteenth-century French physician and anthropologist Paul Broca reputedly said. It is a dangerous mistake to ignore the ideas we take for granted, be that about language, space, people…

Excerpt from: Anthro-Vision: How Anthropology Can Explain Business and Life by Gillian Tett

💎 Our tendency to underestimate the variance – or noise – in business

In a well-run insurance company, if you randomly selected two qualified underwriters or claims adjusters, how different would you expect their estimates for the same case to be? Specifically, what would be the difference between the two estimates, as a percentage of their average?

We asked numerous executives in the company for their answers, and in subsequent years, we have obtained estimates from a wide variety of people in different professions. Surprisingly, one answer is clearly more popular than all others. Most executives of the insur­ance company guessed 10% or less.  When we asked 828 CEOs and senior executives from a variety of industries how much variation they expected to find in similar expert judgments, 10% was also the median answer and the most frequent one (the second most popular was 15%). A 10% difference would mean, for instance, that one of the two underwriters set a premium of $9,500 while the other quoted $10,500. Not a negligible difference, but one that an organization can be expected to tolerate.

Our noise audit found much greater differences. By our measure. the median difference in underwriting was 55%, about five times as large as was expected by most people, including the company’s executives.

Excerpt from: Noise: A flaw in human judgement by Daniel Kahneman, Olivier Sibony and Cass R. Sunstein

💎 The four steps that lead to the quantification fallacy

The first step is to measure whatever can be easily measured. This is okay as far as it goes. The second step is to disregard that which can’t be easily measured, or to give it an arbitrary quantitative value. This is artificial and misleading. The third step is to presume that what can’t be measured easily really isn’t important. This is blindness. The fourth step is to say that what can’t be easily measured really doesn’t exist. This is suicide.

Excerpt from: Tarzan Economics: Eight Principles for Pivoting through Disruption by Will Page

💎 Putting safety before profit

the largest impact-would come not from Detroit but from Sweden. In the mid-fifties, Volvo hired an aeronautical engineer named Nils Bohlin, who had been working on emergency ejection seats at Saab’s aerospace division. Bohlin began tinkering with a piece of equipment that had been largely an oversight in most auto­mobiles up until that point: the seat belt. Many cars were sold with­ out any seat belts at all; the models that did include them offered poorly designed lap belts that offered minimal protection in the event of a crash. They were rarely worn, even by children.

Borrowing from the approach to safety restraint used by military pilots, Bohlin quickly developed what he called a three-point de­sign. The belt had to absorb g-forces on both the chest and the pelvis, minimizing soft tissue stress under impact, but at the same time it had to be simple to snap on, easy enough that a child could master it. Bohlin’s design brought together a shoulder and lap belt that buckled together in a V formation at the passenger’s side, which meant the buckle itself wouldn’t cause injuries in a collision. It was an elegant design, the basis for the seat belts that now come standard on every car manufactured anywhere in the world. An early prototype of the shoulder strap had decapitated a few crash dummies, which led to a rumor that the seat belt itself could kill you in a crash. To combat those rumors, Volvo actually hired a race-car driver to perform death-defying stunts-deliberately rolling his car at high speeds-all the time wearing Nils Bohlin’s three-point seat belt to stay safe,

By 1959, Volvo was selling cars with the three-point seat belt as a standard feature. Early data suggested that this-one addition was single-handedly reducing auto fatalities by 75 percent. Three years later, Bohlin was granted patent number US3043625A by the US Patent and Trademark Office for a “Three-point seat belt systems comprising two side lower and one side upper anchoring devices.” Recognizing the wider humanitarian benefits of the technology, Volvo chose not to enforce the patent-making Bohlin’s design freely available to all car manufacturers worldwide. The ultimate effect of Bohlin’s design was staggering. More than one million lives-many of them young ones-have been saved by the three-point seat belt. A few decades after it was awarded, the Bohlin Patent was recognized as one of the eight patents to have had “the greatest significance for the humanity” over the preceding century.

Excerpt from: Extra Life: A Short History of Living Longer by Steven Johnson

💎 Even short breaks can disrupt habits

Recent research suggests that anything more than a short lapse in a behavior we hope to make habitual (say, multiple missed visits to the gym rather than just one) can be costly. Seinfeld’s mantra “Don’t break the streak” is astute. It also helps explain the logic behind twenty-eight-pill packages of birth control. Scientifi­cally speaking, the pills are necessary only on the first twenty-one days of a twenty-eight-day menstrual cycle. However, most birth control packages include seven sugar pills along with twenty-one hormone pills to ensure that people on birth control won’t fall out of the bit.

Excerpt from: How to Change: The Science of Getting from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be by Katy Milkman

💎 On the importance of updating our beliefs when presented with new information

My colleague Phil Tetlock finds that forecasting skill is less a matter of what we know than of how we think. When he and his collaborators studied a host of factors that predict excellence in forecasting, grit and ambition didn’t rise to the top. Neither did intelligence, which came in second. There was another factor that had roughly triple the predictive power of brainpower.

The single most important driver of forecasters’ success was how often they updated their beliefs. The best forecasters went through more rethinking cycles. They had the confident humility to doubt their judgments and the curiosity to discover new information that led them to revise their predictions.

Excerpt from: Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know by Adam Grant

💎 On the value of changing your mind

With all due respect to the lessons of experience, I prefer the rigor of evidence. When a trio of psychologists conducted a comprehensive review of thirty-three studies, they found that in every one, the majority of answer revisions were from wrong to right. This phenomenon is known as the first-instinct fallacy.

In one demonstration, psychologists counted eraser marks on the exams of more than 1,500 students in Illinois. Only a quarter of the changes were from right to wrong, while half were from wrong to right. I’ve seen it in my own classroom year after year: my students’ final exams have surprisingly few eraser marks, but those who do rethink their first answers rather than staying anchored to them end up improving their scores.

Excerpt from: Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know by Adam Grant

💎 On using our understanding of the natural world to your advantage

In another life-and-death situation, in 1989 Bengal tigers killed about 60 villagers from India’s Ganges delta. No weapons seemed to work against them, including lacing dummies with live wires to shock the tigers away from human populations.

Then a student at the Science Club of Calcutta noticed that tigers only attacked when they thought they were unseen, and recalled that the patterns decorating some species of butterflies, beetles, and caterpillars look like big eyes, ostensibly to trick predators into thinking their prey was also watching them. The result: a human face mask, worn on the back of head. Remarkably, no one wearing a mask was attacked by a tiger for the next three years; anyone killed by tigers during that time had either refused to wear the mask, or had taken it off while working. — sidebar: Occam’s Razor in the Medical field

Excerpt from: The Great Mental Models Volume 1: General Thinking Concepts by Shane Parrish and Rhiannon Beaubien

💎 On the danger of only measuring the first order effects of an intervention

In 1963, the UC Santa Barbara ecologist and economist Garrett Hardin’ Proposed his First Law of Ecology: “You can never merely do one thing.” We operate in a world of multiple, overlapping connections, like a web, with many significant, yet obscure and unpredictable, relationships. He developed Second-order thinking into a tool, showing that if you don’t consider “the effects of the effects,” you can’t really claim to be doing any thinking at all.

When it comes to the overuse of antibiotics in meat, the first-order consequence is that the animals gain more weight per pound of food consumed, and thus there is profit for the farmer. Animals are sold by weight, so the less food you have to use to bulk them up, the more money you will make when you go to sell them.

The second-order effects, however, have many serious, negative consequences. The bacteria that survive this continued antibiotic exposure are antibiotic resistant. That means that the agricultural industry, when using these antibiotics as bulking agents, is allowing mass numbers of drug-resistant

Excerpt from: The Great Mental Models Volume 1: General Thinking Concepts by Shane Parrish and Rhiannon Beaubien

💎 On the illusion of explanatory depth

isolation is powerful but misleading. For a start, while humans have accumulated a vast store of collective knowledge, each of us alone knows surprisingly little, certainly less than we imagine. In 2002, the psychologists Frank Keil and Leonid Rozenblit asked people to rate their own understanding of how zips work. The respondents answered confidently — after all, they used zips all the time. But when asked to explain how a zip works, they failed dismally. Similar results were found when people were asked to describe climate change and the economy. We know a lot less than we think we do about the world around us. Cognitive scientists call this ‘the illusion of explanatory depth’, or just ‘the knowledge illusion’.

Excerpt from: Conflicted: Why Arguments Are Tearing Us Apart and How They Can Bring Us Together by Ian Leslie

💎 On the advantage of being familiar with a number of accurate models of human behaviour, rather than just knowing a series of unrelated facts

In a famous speech in the 1990s, Charlie Munger summed up this approach to practical wisdom: “Well, the first rule is that you can’t really know anything if you just remember isolated facts and try and bang ‘em back. If the facts don’t hang together on a latticework of theory, you don’t have them in a usable form. You’ve got to have models in your head. And you’ve got to array your experience both vicarious and direct on this latticework of models. You may have noticed students who just try to remember and pound back what is remembered. Well, they fail in school and in life. You’ve got to hang experience on a latticework of models in your head.”

Excerpt from: The Great Mental Models Volume 1: General Thinking Concepts by Shane Parrish and Rhiannon Beaubien

💎 Bayesian thinking and the importance of applying a base rate when interpreting new data

The core of Bayesian thinking (or Bayesian updating, as it can be called) is this: given that we have limited but useful information about the world, and are constantly encountering new information, we should probably take into account what we already know when we learn something new. As much of it as possible. Bayesian thinking allows us to use all relevant prior information in making decisions. Statisticians might call it a base rate, taking in outside information about past situations like the one you’re in.

Consider the headline “Violent Stabbings on the Rise.” Without Bayesian thinking, you might become genuinely afraid because your chances of being a victim of assault or murder is higher than it was a few months ago. But a Bayesian approach will have you putting this information into the context of what you already know about violent crime. You know that violent crime has been declining to its lowest rates in decades. Your city is safer now than it has been since this measurement started. Let’s say your chance of being a victim of a stabbing last year was one in 10,000, or 0.01%. The article states, with accuracy, that violent crime has doubled. It is now two in 10,000, or 0.02%. Is that worth being terribly worried about? The prior information here is key. When we factor it in, we realize that our safety has not really been compromised.

Excerpt from: The Great Mental Models Volume 1: General Thinking Concepts by Shane Parrish and Rhiannon Beaubien

💎 On how we can be trapped by our own perspective

The first flaw is perspective. We have a hard time seeing any system that we are in. Galileo’ had a great analogy to describe the limits of our default perspective. Imagine you are on a ship that has reached constant velocity (meaning without a change in speed or direction). You are below decks and there are no portholes. You drop a ball from your raised hand to the floor. To you, it looks as if the ball is dropping straight down, thereby confirming gravity is at work.

Now imagine you are a fish (with special x-ray vision) and you are watching this ship go past. You see the scientist inside, dropping a ball. You register the vertical change in the position of the ball. But you are also able to see a horizontal change. As the ball was pulled down by gravity it also shifted its position east by about 20 feet. The ship moved through the water and therefore so did the ball. The scientist on board, with no external point of reference, was not able to perceive this horizontal shift.

This analogy shows us the limits of our perception. We must be open to other perspectives if we truly want to understand the results of our actions. Despite feeling that we’ve got all the information, if we’re on the ship, the fish in the ocean has more he can share.

Excerpt from: The Great Mental Models Volume 1: General Thinking Concepts by Shane Parrish and Rhiannon Beaubien

💎 Beware claimed data (people don’t like to admit they ‘don’t know’ when questioned)

However, serious academic consideration of public opinion about fictitious issues did not start until the ’80s, when George Bishop and colleagues at the University of Cincinnati found that a third of Americans either favoured or opposed the fictitious Public Affairs Act. Bishop found that this figure dropped substantially when respondents were offered an explicit don’t know’ option. However, 10 per cent of respondents still selected a substantive answer, even when given a clear opportunity to express their lack of familiarity. Similar findings were reported in the US at around the same time by Howard Schuman and Stanley Presser, who also found that a third of respondents to their survey expressed positions on issues which, though real, were so obscure that few ordinary citizens would ever have heard of them.

Excerpt from: Sex, Lies and Politics: The Secret Influences That Drive our Political Choices by Philip Cowley and Robert Ford

💎 Beware interpreting stats on anything you have a strongly held view about (from politics to Covid and beyond)

It’s much more challenging when emotional reactions are involved, as we’ve seen with smokers and cancer statistics. Psychologist Ziva Kunda found the same effect in the lab when she showed experimental subjects an article laying out the evidence that coffee or other sources of caffeine could increase the risk to women of developing breast cysts. Most people found the article pretty convincing. Women who drank a lot of coffee did not.

We often find ways to dismiss evidence that we don’t like. And the opposite is true, too: when evidence seems to support our preconceptions, we are less likely to look too closely for flaws.

The more extreme the emotional reaction, the harder it is to think straight.

Excerpt from: How to Make the World Add Up: Ten Rules for Thinking Differently About Numbers by Tim Harford

💎 Beware the Rosser Reeves effect when interpreting tracking data (communication effectiveness)

Research routinely shows that people who’re aware of communication from brand X are more likely to buy that brand. Sometimes used as evidence that communication drives sales, in fact causality usually runs the other way: buying brand X makes you more likely to notice its communications. This phenomenon (the so-called ‘Rosser Reeves effecť – named after the famous 1950s adman) has been known for decades, yet is still routinely used to ‘prove’ communication effectiveness (most recently to justify social media use).

Excerpt from: How not to Plan: 66 ways to screw it up by Les Binet and Sarah Carter