This is the final installment of several posts for my own benefit - making brief clips from the Rosling "Factfullness" book to encapsulate what he calls our 10 'basic instincts' - instinctual mental errors that we make - hoping this exercise will imprint them in my feeble memory and make me less likely to perform some of the mental errors he describes.
The Destiny Instinct (Chapter 7) - Many things (including people, countries, religions, and cultures) appear to be constant just because the change is happening slowly. Remember that even small, slow changes gradually add up to big changes. To control the destiny instinct, remember slow change is still change. Keep track of gradual improvements. A small change every year can translate to a huge change over decades. Update your knowledge. Some knowledge goes out of date quickly. Technology, countries, societies, cultures, and religions are constantly changing. Talk to Grandpa. If you want to be reminded of how values have changed, think about your grandparents’ values and how they differ from yours. Collect examples of cultural change. Challenge the idea that today’s culture must also have been yesterday’s, and will also be tomorrow’s.
The Single Perspective Instinct (Chapter 8) - Recognize that a single perspective can limit your imagination, and remember that it is better to look at problems from many angles to get a more accurate understanding and find practical solutions. To control the single perspective instinct, get a toolbox, not a hammer. Test your ideas. Don’t only collect examples that show how excellent your favorite ideas are. Have people who disagree with you test your ideas and find their weaknesses. Don’t claim expertise beyond your field: be humble about what you don’t know. Be aware too of the limits of the expertise of others. If you are good with a tool, you may want to use it too often. If your favorite idea is a hammer, look for colleagues with screwdrivers, wrenches, and tape measures. Be open to ideas from other fields. The world cannot be understood without numbers, and it cannot be understood with numbers alone. Love numbers for what they tell you about real lives. Beware of simple ideas and simple solutions. History is full of visionaries who used simple utopian visions to justify terrible actions. Welcome complexity. Combine ideas. Compromise. Solve problems on a case-by-case basis.
The Blame Instinct (Chapter 9) - Recognize when a scapegoat is being used and remember that blaming an individual often steals the focus from other possible explanations and blocks our ability to prevent similar problems in the future. To control the blame instinct, resist finding a scapegoat. Look for causes, not villains. When something goes wrong don’t look for an individual or a group to blame. Accept that bad things can happen without anyone intending them to. Instead spend your energy on understanding the multiple interacting causes, or system, that created the situation. Look for systems, not heroes. When someone claims to have caused something good, ask whether the outcome might have happened anyway, even if that individual had done nothing. Give the system some credit.
The Urgency Instanct (Chapter 10) - Recognize when a situation feels urgent and remember that it rarely is. To control the urgency instinct, take small steps. Take a breath. When your urgency instinct is triggered, your other instincts kick in and your analysis shuts down. Ask for more time and more information. It’s rarely now or never and it’s rarely either/or. Insist on the data. If something is urgent and important, it should be measured. Beware of data that is relevant but inaccurate, or accurate but irrelevant. Only relevant and accurate data is useful. Beware of fortune-tellers. Any prediction about the future is uncertain. Be wary of predictions that fail to acknowledge that. Insist on a full range of scenarios, never just the best or worst case. Ask how often such predictions have been right before. Be wary of drastic action. Ask what the side effects will be. Ask how the idea has been tested. Step-by-step practical improvements, and evaluation of their impact, are less dramatic but usually more effective.
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