The optimism bias: Was Eeyore right?

Attempt at E H Shepard's Eeyore by Rob Tatman

A. A. Milne’s downbeat donkey is the poster-child for part 3 in the series about cognitive biases.

Eeyore had it right, we’re overconfident and too optimistic. Some evidence from the US:

95% of our teachers report that they are above average teachers.

96% of college students say they have above average social skills.

Time Magazine asked Americans, “Are you in the top 1% of earners?” 19% of Americans are in the top 1% of earners.

David Brooks: The social animal (TED Talk)

Continue reading The optimism bias: Was Eeyore right?

Email experiment

I reached a mini-milestone today. A simple setting change with a long history:

Like many, I’d turned off new email notifications years ago. No annoying “You have mail!” pop-ups, no sudden sounds, no nagging envelope icon, no barely-perceptible mouse cursor changes, no tiresome fade-in text, no irritating iOS badges, nada.

I was managing email on my terms.  Except I wasn’t…  Using my inbox as a to-do list integral to my workflow meant that I was susceptible to distractions when going in and out of the mail app.  Even though I was only checking to batch process new mail three times a day (morning, lunch, evening), www.rescuetime.com (free trial) revealed the truth of my app usage.

So I’m going to experiment with pulling emails manually only three times a day from now. Why not?  We’ll see…

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Update- 1st October:

Habit formed. This really works! With one adjustment:

Mac Mail users may also want to disable the nagging red count badge that lives in the doc via Mail Preferences: 

 

Spit it out

Ever find it difficult to strip down what you have to say to the bare minimum? I do. My list of draft blog posts has swelled to around 50. I need to get better at getting them out the door. While they are fresh in my mind. Minimal polishing. Idea> open wordpress> tap the keyboard> hit Publish.  Next.

The danger is that it takes time to refine down ideas:

I didn’t have time to write a short letter so i’ve written a long one instead. ~Mark Twain

So I’ve started using postcards to structure my thoughts (idea pinched from this Richard Kelly talk). The space limitation is a kind of old school version of Twitter’s 140 characters and using a pen rather than keyboard feels good.

 

Confirmation Bias

Welcome to Part 2 in the series about cognitive biases. Critical thinking hats on…

  • Confirmation bias: the tendency to gather or interpret information that confirms our existing lines of thinking.

For example, I enjoy travelling and collect quotes and arguments for travelling (previous post) that ignore the anti-travelling view. (Is there one?!)  This is a blind spot for my critical thinking, albeit one that I recognise.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of cherry picking relevant information when time / resources are tight or when we have already settled on an answer.  However, we may regret discarding information in the future, particularly if our decisions are held up to scrutiny.

What can we do to minimise this bias?

One way is to deliberately seek out opposing views. Abraham Lincoln famously countered confirmation bias by forming his cabinet with those that publicly disagreed with him. Bold!

Creativity expert Roger Von Oech goes further and suggests we ask a fool to provide a different perspective and challenge our assumptions to stimulate our thinking.

BTW – If you are tempted into thinking this is all a bit fluffy then you may have succumbed to a confirmation bias about creativity experts; Von Oech has a Ph.D. from Stanford University and has provided creativity consulting to Apple, Disney, Sony and Intel. Continue reading Confirmation Bias

Biased? Me?!

Like most people, I like to think of myself as fairly rational. I’m not biased. Am I?

It turns out that there are lots of ways in which my thinking habits introduce bias into my decisions and judgements.  And yours.  I’m fascinated by these cognitive (aka thinking) biases and I’ve been keeping notes since discovering the concept on the Henley MBA. It’s both amazing and scary how they can distort our thinking.

Fortunately, I’ve found that learning about cognitive biases can help me recognise the common traps and so make better decisions.  In his book, A Whole New Mind, Dan Pink refers to this as equipoise: the ability to have the serenity to read the biases and failures in your own mind.

Continue reading Biased? Me?!

Why travel?

I neglected this blog while travelling largely because we didn’t have a laptop, a decision I regret as per this previous post. Wordpress.org does have an iOS app but typing on a small touch screen feels like I’m pecking away like a chicken.  The process of writing doesn’t have any flow for me using a smartphone.  Plus I like to see the words on a decent size page after I’ve finished.

Anyway, back in England now.  New year.  New intensions.

First, a post-rationalisation on why travelling is both enjoyable and useful [Full disclosure: I love travelling]: Continue reading Why travel?