Sunday, March 6, 2016

Monday Musings 256 – Conclusion first- Proof later.

Monday Musings 256 – Conclusion first- Proof later.

What is it about misplaced priorities that humankind (note I have not used the word mankind in the interest of heightened political correctness) is so susceptible to? What is the lure of the easy and contingent that so overwhelmingly overpowers the difficult but right?

Decision making is a very deeply researched subject these days – and it is replete with biases we suffer from. (for more on this one can read the brilliant Nobel prize winner Daniel Kahneman). There are a list of biases that operate to make us chose what is logically often the flawed option.  We search and get what we always wanted to find and often overlook what we don’t want to find even if it is available to us right in front of our eyes (confirmation bias).

I find the notion of confirmation bias so particularly overpowering and vicious simultaneously. In a deeply divided polity and deeply opinionated meeting rooms in the corporate world, the pervasiveness of the confirmation bias is almost depressing.

The adherents to the left and right keep throwing research, data, evidence and proof daily to prove the intellectual and emotional basis of their ideology. The trolls on the social media do the rest (I doubt most of those who forward even understand the intellectual underpinnings of what they forwarding). May be what they forward confirms only what they want to believe (classical confirmation bias). So their belief and their biases keep getting deepened every day. Since the vice of the confirmation bias is so strong, they do not see (or want to see) evidence and logic to the contrary, no new understanding of the issue gets built. I can only quote Rick Warren to them. “People ask me – are you right wing or are you left wing? – And I always say – ‘I am for the whole bird’. A one winged bird didn’t ever get off the ground’’.

The board room and the cubicle are more subtle in its being the victim of the confirmation bias. All data is susceptible to opinionated interpretations. Data can be mined in order to strengthen the bias. We know from experience that books have been cooked – so cooking up a presentation is kids play, isn’t it? But cooking up data conjures of malafide intent – I am talking about the cooking up of data that happens when no conscious cooking is happening – it’s just that we are searching for validity of a view point through data, rather than let the data do the talking and help build a view point. The conclusion is reached first and then support for validation is sought. All planning is susceptible to confirmation biases. All strategy is susceptible too. Who will guard against it?

It is not difficult to find that the tokenism overpowers true action. What is crucial and critical is rendered to the margins and the easier option gets acted upon – well precisely because it is easy. In this brilliant book ‘Fault lines, one Raguram Rajan, who would later on become our RBI governor, traced the origins of the financial crises. According to him, because the political masters could not urgently and immediately solve the American problem of education and health, they began the easy option of providing them easy credit. The rest of the story is known to all of us.

Kabeer says

Duniya badi baanwri, pathar poojan jaye,

Ghar ki chakki koi na pooje, jiska peesa khaye.

(The world is crazy, worships the stone idol; but does worship the stone flour grinder which prepares food).



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