Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Paralysis by analysis vs. Extinct by instinct

There are two distinct types of decision-makers in this world.One set are extremely data-driven,every projection will be looked at, every opinion will be sought and every worst -case scenario will be dreamt of. Yet another set, will take earth shattering decisions after a deep breath and a shrug of the shoulders. You would think in today's world of information overload, there is no reason or justification in being from the second set but yet they exist and thrive. Malcolm Gladwell's "Blink" is a seminal piece of work in this dichotomy of decision making. As it turns out, people who are 'experts' in the field of work often make decisions based on their gut because the rules and possible outcomes are so deeply embedded in their subconscious that it bypasses the decision making centre(the brain). So can when we apply this concept to making decisions in our day to day life? Why not? We are in a way 'experts' of our lives, nobody knows you better than yourself.If you are a twenty-something, you have had a lot of time to become aware of your strengths,weaknesses.Every decision need not be over-analyzed till the point it consumes you.

On a related note, this is probably why intelligent people tend to be more unhappy than their less cerebral counterparts. For every decision to be made, there are more aware of its implications, outcomes and it is just the act of thinking about it , makes them more hesitant and their anxiety levels rise. Extrapolating this argument a little, if you look around at the self-made success stories ,none of them are very intelligent in a conventional sense.They are people who took irrational decisions at crucial junctures and lived to tell the tale. If they were smarter , the risk averse, data-driven side would have won and they would have 'settled' for society's version of a jackpot ; a stable job and your own house. But they did not.They put everything on the line maybe because of their inflated sense of self-confidence and also maybe they weren't smart enough to see how it could go wrong. So allow yourself to be a little stupid from time to time, just because data exists doesn't necessarily prove anything. Data can be spun any which way to prove any hypothesis .After all ,"Statistics are like bikinis. What they reveal is suggestive, but what they conceal is vital". (BTW, this quote is by Aaron Levenstein, a professor from Baruch ,not from Navjot frikkin' Sidhu:)

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