I work with a colleague who has gone bonkers for brain studies, many of which conclude that we aren’t as smart as we think (no big excitement there). While I tend to look on such ethereal pursuits with some amount of skepticism, he got my attention with some pretty pertinent stuff that I intend to try and digest over the next several weeks.
I find this brain stuff pretty daunting since I grew up in an age that barely understood how the thing worked, so as far as I was concerned it was a wrinkled glob of silly putty with things called Ego, Super Ego, and Id embossed on its glistening surface. Still popular in some circles was the belief in the ability to measure intelligence with what was known as one’s cephalic index, so since mine nestled close to that of a baboon, I figured I needn’t concern myself with understanding what went on between my ears. However, some of the things I’ve read recently have rung a bunch of bells in my cerebral cortex, whatever that is. As for instance…
Most of us view our brains (not other people’s perhaps) as temples of rational thought in which we invest inordinate faith. Trouble is that at its very best it is not all that rational, but the interesting thing is that some of its irrationality is hard-wired in for reasons that on balance are highly valuable, but that sometimes lead us astray.
One of these is that our brains are spring-loaded to overconfidence, a predisposition without which we would be far less likely to take risks. Along with its running mate, overoptimism, overconfidence allows us to don rose-colored glasses when it comes to assessing the future. The up side of this is that we’re well prepared to seize opportunity when it presents itself, but the down side is that it can allow us to leap to disastrous conclusions when it comes to developing strategies based primarily on estimates of what may happen—hardly the basis for sound reasoning.
I feel safe in saying in the case of overoptimism, we’ve all been there, and will most certainly go back to that well again, so how can we stay tuned to the advantages, at the same time avoiding at least the most glaring pitfalls?
According to my colleague, the answer to this is by building more flexibility into our actions, the key to which is the inclusion of a wider range of options in our decision tree. Often this means asking ourselves and bunch of “what ifs” when faced with questions such as whether to expand or contract our work force or to invest or to offload equipment. You go through this drill nearly every day of your life, so the mechanics are second nature. Just be aware of how your brain predisposes you and that the best antidote for overconfidence is a healthy dose of skepticism for strategies in which uncertainty is present.