Question your assumptions for clarity

Idea Journal Weekly 3


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Idea Journal Weekly 3

March 13 · Issue #234 · View online

We combine 3 ideas to help you think differently and be more creative.

Summary: We’re all out of touch. We believe we know what drives other people. But too often our “understanding” acts more like a mirror than a microscope.
(~3 min read)

#1. People are easier to understand when you acknowledge your bias
Investor Morgan Housel writes on his blog that we’re all biased to our own personal history.
As Housel puts it: “Your personal experiences make up maybe 0.00000001% of what’s happened in the world, but maybe 80% of how you think the world works.”
For example, maybe you were born to rich parents. Or maybe you’ve been discriminated against. 
One effect is that you understand something that people who haven’t had such experiences never will. But another effect is that you likely overestimate how common those experiences are for other people.
Housel’s solution is to start with the assumption that everyone is innocently out of touch. 
This way, “you’ll be more likely to explore what’s going on through multiple points of view, instead of cramming what’s going on into the framework of your own experiences.”
#2. Carelessness is more likely than malice
One unfortunate result of being biased by our personal history is that we tend to misinterpret why other people behave the way they do. 
Researchers Lauren McCann and Gabriel Weinberg write in their book Super Thinking that one cause of such misinterpretation is the fundamental attribution error.
The fundamental attribution error happens when you make errors by attributing other people’s behavior to something fundamental about them, instead of accounting for external factors. 
For example, if someone runs a red light you may assume that the person is inherently reckless. But maybe they’re rushing to the hospital for an emergency.
McCann and Weinberg suggest that one technique to overcome the fundamental attribution error is to use Hanlon’s razor: “never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by carelessness.”
Hanlon’s razor looks for the simplest explanation of other people’s behavior. 
It won’t be applicable in all situations, but it can help you resist overly complicated interpretations. When someone does something harmful, the simplest explanation is usually that they took the path of least resistance.
Their carelessness led to a negative outcome, but it probably wasn’t intentional.
For instance, the next time you send someone a detailed message and all you get back is “OK,” consider that the other person is in a rush or distracted. This interpretation is more likely than the interpretation that they wrote their brief reply out of malice.
#3. Try on other people's shoes
Merely thinking yourself into someone else’s position is only so effective. 
You need to put yourself in their shoes to truly appreciate their experience.
Author and entrepreneur Rolf Dobelli writes in his book The Art of the Good Life that he never appreciated the amount of work mothers do until he and his wife had twins, and he had to look after the babies by himself.
As he puts it: “After half a day I was more exhausted than after a ten-day business trip.”
Dobelli admits that plenty of mothers had previously told him how challenging caring for babies can be. And there are numerous books with parenting advice. 
“Yet all that had left me cold. Only by doing could I begin to understand.”
For Dobelli, the key to reaching this deeper understanding is acknowledging that there’s a difference between thinking and doing.
Once you accept that thinking and doing are separate activities, you can put that knowledge to practical use. 
Dobelli recommends briefly walking around in other people’s shoes with all of your important relationships. For example, your partner, clients, and employees.
“Role reversal is by far the most efficient, quick, and cost-effective way of building mutual understanding.”
Quote of the week
“Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while or the light won’t come in. If you challenge your own, you won’t be so quick to accept the unchallenged assumptions of others.”
- Actor Alan Alda in his commencement speech to the 1980 to the graduating class of Connecticut College, which included his daughter Eve Alda
Idea Journal
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