There is polarized debate on whether instincts are worth following. Companies are increasingly relying on quantitative metrics for new hires over subjective interviews. Nate Silver’s The Signal and The Noise pitches old-school scouts against number-crunching quants to find the next baseball star. And doctors are taught to follow the science even if it sounds counter-intuitive (such as prescribing beta-blockers, a heart slowing medicine, for patients with heart failure actually prolongs life).
But all is not lost for those relying on instincts – as your gut instinct may tell you. Last year a New York Times article argues that big data is imperfect. In his research, Nobel-prize winning Daniel Kahneman finds that our minds are naturally wired to think in both instincts (System 1) and data (System 2).
At the end of the day, the new age of big data and massive informatics does not preclude the need to slow down and use our own System 2 to process whether the science behind our decisions truly make sense. Instinct is neither good nor bad; it is merely instinct.
“We’re storytelling creatures by nature, and we tell ourselves story after story until we come up with an explanation that we like and that sounds reasonable enough to believe. And when the story portrays us in a more glowing and positive light, so much the better.”
– Dan Ariely, The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty
A life story is a carefully shaped narrative that is replete with strategic forgetting and skillfully spun meanings. Like any published memoir, our own life stories should also come with a disclaimer: “This story that I tell about myself is only based on a true story. I am in large part a figment of my own yearning imagination.”
– Jonathan Gottschall, The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human
If you have more than one reason to do something … just don’t do it. It does not mean that one reason is better than two, just that by invoking more than one reason you are trying to convince yourself to do something. Obvious decisions (robust to error) require no more than a single reason.
– Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder
Word of mouth, then, is a prime tool for making a good impression—as potent as that new car or Prada handbag. Think of it as a kind of currency. Social currency… So to get people talking, companies and organizations need to mint social currency… There are three ways to do that: (1) find inner remarkability; (2) leverage game mechanics; and (3) make people feel like insiders.
– Jonah Berger, Contagious: Why Things Catch On
Not long ago, I had the opportunity to participate in a medical research project. In broad terms, the researchers developed a virtual tool to evaluate the skills of doctors on a particular procedure without performing on a real patient, and they needed people at various stages of proficiency to test the training program. Since I was a total novice, it made me an ideal subject – I was expected to stumble and burn. In fact, I was so clueless that I had to ask the experimenter to repeat the instructions for the simulation. Then, through either sheer luck or innate talent (ha), I scored near the top of the chart.
Shortly after the study concluded, I was notified that after discussing with the co-researchers, the research team has decided to discard my data-point because “the instructions were given twice, which gave an unfair advantage over the other participants.” I wanted to reply, “But if a complete novice can score like this without knowing how to do the actual procedure, doesn’t that say something about the quality of the virtual evaluation?”
More interestingly, if I had scored much lower than the average novice – making the results look even better – would the research team have thrown out my data-point all the same? Continue reading →
The fable of Buridan’s donkey tells of a donkey who is profoundly hungry. When put in the exact midpoint between a two identical piles of hay, the donkey was unable to choose which one it wanted and eventually dies of hunger. Ironically, if the donkey had only one and not two piles of hay to choose from, its life would have been easier (and longer). Obviously, people are smarter than Buridan’s donkey – are we? Continue reading →