My nephew is a senior Air Force pilot. Years back when we were discussing something, he said, “Pramod Kaka, this has to be true. It was there in yesterday’s newspapers.” I told him that I would put an advertisement is a newspaper, saying that he is an idiot. Will that be true? He realized the folly of his argument. All of us make similar errors in our lives when we are taking a decision. We always try to go by existing norms or “truths”. It is very easy to compare the current situation with the existing norms. We don’t want to deviate from these norms. Many times the decision based on this thinking could be wrong but the status quo in thinking is what we opt for.
Humans always take pride in saying that they are always very rational and take decisions based on logical well considered thought. But there are many times when we make emotional, irrational, and confusing choices. But there are some very obvious errors we make while taking decisions like my nephew did!
Follow the leader tendency
On the internet we see articles with titles like “8 Things Successful People Do Every day” or “The Best Advice Richard Branson Ever Received” or “How Tendulkar followed an exercise regime since childhood”. These articles give pointers to you to understand the path used by successful people.
Follow the leader tendency is to focus on the winners in a particular area and try to learn from them while completely forgetting about hundreds of losers who are employing the same strategy.
A similar example is “Richard Branson, Bill Gates, and Mark Zuckerberg all dropped out of school and became billionaires! You don’t need school to succeed. Entrepreneurs just need to stop wasting time in class and get started.” It’s possible that Richard Branson succeeded in spite of his path and not because of it. For every Branson, Gates, and Zuckerberg, there are thousands of other entrepreneurs with failed projects, debt-heavy bank accounts, and half-finished degrees. Follow the leader tendency isn’t merely saying that a strategy may not work well for you, it’s also saying that we don’t really know if the strategy works well at all.
When the winners are remembered and the losers are forgotten it becomes very difficult to say if a particular strategy leads to success. Ten thousand to one may be the ratio of forgotten and remembered people. For hundreds of thousand failed cricketers, we think about a Tendulkar. It’s good to aim to be a Tendulkar. We only know a general path Tendulkar took to succeed but we don’t know ALL the details of what he did! Tendulkar also never went to college, so not going to college to become a successful cricketer is not the path for everybody. Tendulkar did not go to college because he was already an international player when he reached college age and never got time to go to college!
We have been taught from childhood be a topper, be a winner all the time in whatever we do! But life is never that simple. In an exam, you must come first, in races you should win, in singing you should be the best. But to be a winner in every aspect of life is simply not possible. But then how do you learn to lose? Nobody teaches you how to lose. One avenue where you win some and lose some is the sports arena! Every individual or every team in any sports activity they play wins and loses! The winning and losing games is a great education. This teaches us that life is the same as any game. You win some and lose some!
When we become overly competitive, every aspect of life becomes a competition! On a toll booth, if other lines move fast, we get upset. Consider two transactions, in one we gain Rs.100/ and in the other we lose Rs.100/. In one case we are elated and in the other, we feel a loss. But the intensity of elation and loss for the same amount is different. Humans don’t like to lose. I bought a pair of shoes a few days back but I did not feel like disposing of my old shoes. That is human nature. In today’s startup scenario it is considered that you do not have sufficient experience if your CV does not show a couple of failed ventures in your name. Failures are the path to success.
Decisions based on limited knowledge
To believe in things that are easily available and visible is a common mistake that our brains make, by assuming that the examples which come to mind easily are the most important or prevalent things.
We are living in the most peaceful time in history, and also the best reported time in history. Information on any disaster or crime is more widely available than ever before. A quick search on the Internet will pull up more information about the most recent terrorist attack than any newspaper could have ever delivered 100 years ago. The recent killing of the Police Officer in UP is a classic case. A lot of information is coming up everywhere in the form of visuals, videos, sound bites; views of different leaders, social scientists are heard and read continuously. This creates an atmosphere as if the world as we know is going down the drain. Yes, what happened was extremely bad but the things are in reasonable control. Social media is equally responsible for creating such a tense atmosphere.
The overall percentage of dangerous events is decreasing, but the likelihood that you hear about one of them (or many of them) is increasing. And because these events are readily available in our mind, our brains assume that they happen with greater frequency than they actually do. We overvalue and overestimate the impact of things that we can remember and we undervalue and underestimate the prevalence of the events we hear nothing about.
The end result of all this euphoria is while taking decisions about things we only go by what is currently discussed and what is discussed boldly but is not necessarily correct. Sometimes I feel that social media was designed by Goebbels.
We go by what we believe in and what we want to believe in. If we believe that demonetization was good for the economy, we will look at every statement and article and speech against it, as some stupidity or we will call it paid news. If we believe in climate changes, anything against your view, you will tend to ignore. Similarly, while taking decisions, we go by what we believe is right and nothing else.
Friends, I have discussed something which is the issue with all of us. So, we will think that we need to change and be more rational. But it is easier said than done. Changing our way of thinking is one of the toughest things in this world. Sometimes this is also called Ego! But to be on the practical side, we should try to realize that we should be more rational while thinking on any subject. We may have grown up in a family, where paying taxes was considered irrational. But when we think rationally….
We are all self-centred. We always think in our own cocoons or silos! The best example is the famous sentence, “What my nation has done for me?”; but we never think of the counter question, “What have I done for my nation?” Be rational, don’t be self-centred. Let us not be an Ostrich and bury our head in the sand!