Monday, January 30, 2006

Thinking Like A Kid

I believe that the propensity to learn new things decreases as a man ages (ie) a 1 year old kid learns a lot more in a day as compared to a 10 year old, who instead learns a lot more as compared to 25 year old.

A high school teacher drew a dot on the blackboard and asked the class what it was. ‘A chalk dot on the blackboard,’ was the only response. ‘I’m surprised at you,’ the teacher said. ‘I did this exercise with a group of kindergartners and they thought fifty different things it could be: a squashed bug, an owl’s eye, a cow’s head. They had their imagination in high gear. As Picasso put it, ‘Every child is an artist. The challenge is to remain an artist you grow up.”—Creative Whack Pack (card no: 16)

I think one way to maintain our artistic caliber as we grow up is to learn to think gray, and free. I will draw the lessons from my understanding of an excellent book “The Contrarians Guide to Leadership” by Steven Sample and this wonderful post by Prof. Sanjay Bakshi.

Thinking Gray:
The essence of thinking gray is this: don’t form an opinion about an important matter until you’ve heard all the relevant facts and arguments, or until circumstances force you to form an opinion without recourse to all the facts (which happens occasionally, but much less frequently than one might imagine)”—Steven Sample.

Understanding why ‘thinking gray’ is difficult to follow can help us overcome the difficulty. One possible reason could be social conventions. For ex: we generally tend to relate a successful person with good instincts, quick judgments, being decisive… Those are indeed some of the pre-requisites to become a good decision maker, but we should not forget to bring in an important factor, situation. There are situations when one has to think black and white (ie) make instinctive decision, say playing tennis. On the other hand there are situations where the best decision is to not decide at all. (Please read this excellent post by Prof. Sanjay Bakshi in which he has discussed ‘preserving optionality’ at length)

Never make a decision today that can be reasonably put off till tomorrow”—Steven Sample.

Thinking gray requires us to overcome the tendency of being decisive just for the sake of it. For example we have a tendency to record first impressions of people and try to check if our impression is right or wrong. This when supported by anchoring bias can lead to Munger’s ‘man with a hammer’ tendency. Thus it can be said that instead of reaching conclusions, we can just record the events or news as pieces of information and preserve our options to reach conclusions.

The test of the first rate mind is the ability to hold two opposing thoughts at the same time while still retaining the ability of function”—Scott Fitzgerald

Thinking Free:
Much of our thinking is associative: one idea makes you think of another—no matter how logical the connection. Use this ability to generate new ideas. Look at something, and make associations based on whatever you can think of: function, location, size, shape, sound, personal, opposite, weird, etc…” Creative Whack Pack (card no: 15)

The importance of the above paragraph lies in the fact that it advises us to overcome first conclusion bias, which when combined with inconsistency avoidance tendency results in human mind functioning like a human egg (ie) when one sperm gets into a human egg, there’s an automatic shut-off device that bars any other sperm from getting in. It is fine with human egg, but when something of that sort happens to human mind; it tends to hold onto its beliefs irrespective of their validity. Thinking about the consequences of such a condition reminds me of a wonderful quote by Ben Franklin.

When you’re finished changing, you’re finished

Understanding why ‘thinking free’ is so difficult to follow might help us in our endeavor. One possible reason could be people’s aversion to failure. I mean to say that just as people prefer avoiding losses over acquiring gains (as explained by ‘Prospect theory'), people tend to avoid experimenting with thought process if it carries with it the possibility of embarrassment. This could well be the reason behind people blindly falling prey to ‘herd mentality.’ That is, fear of getting caught as a group is very different from getting caught all alone, whatever be the pursuit.

It is easier said than done but with persistent practice we can learn to overcome such shortcomings and learn the art of thinking free. This reminds me of a quote by Warren Buffett,

Practice does not make perfect; it makes permanent

All in all, I think that we should have these important cognitive tools in our repertoire of mental models. The more we practice with such tools, the better informed we can become of their limitations and eventually their advantages.

"Just as a man working with his tools should know its limitations, a man working with his cognitive apparatus must know its limitations"—Charlie Munger.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

What if the anchors were constantly evolving? What if someone revisited this 'anchoring' and added more or reviewed or changed & evolved this anchoring with experiences, learning and emotional evolution?
What if the man with a hammer adds to and constantly evolves his toolkit? And he uses this coupled with the constantly evolving anchoring?
And use those tools checklist-style so he doesnt miss any?
Maybe then he can truly think free and maybe a little more accurately. And maybe over a period of time, make perfect the knack of 'thinking creatively' or grey.

3:09 PM  

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