Avoid A Mistake

Edward de Bono died a week or so ago. He was a thinker who spent his time on ways to improve that process. If you have been in management, you will recall some of his books. The Six Thinking Hats is a common one used to explain how to think from different viewing points and how to encourage lateral thinking.

Lateral thinking

Lateral thinking is the ability to find answers that fall outside traditional step by step logic. Analytical thinking is important but too narrow for some problems.

“90% of error in thinking is due to error in perception. If you can change your perception, you can change your emotion and this can lead to new ideas” Edward de Bono

Ninety per cent is a big share. Think about how we think.

How we think

Kahneman and Tversky added greatly to our knowledge of how we think. Kahneman addressed “Thinking Fast and Slow.”

We have reflexive, fast thinking systems that are helpful in protecting us from intrusive events. A sabre tooth tiger appears, a snake, a fire, a child is missing, thousands more. Fast thinking is an advantage, but only when an instant response is necessary. It is error prone in other situations because it relies on just one input.

It is a decided disadvantage when in complex situations. It supports de Bono’s viewing point idea.

Availability bias

If there is an exciting recent event that will tend to dominate how we think about things related to it. We use the easiest remembered information.

We can find the first example of someone noticing it’s effect. William James was a 19th century philosopher, and the first person to offer a course in psychology. Consider this thought.

“The attention which we lend to an experience is proportional to its vivid or interesting character, and it is a notorious fact that what interests us most vividly at the time is, other things equal, what we remember best.”

The media feeds on attention and we make weaker decisions as the result. Vivid events are not necessarily useful for addressing general cases. Notice how you think on the law enforcement issue.

How many corrupt police officers exist as a percentage? If it turns out to be 3%, would that be enough to taint the entirety of the service? Maybe. 10% would for sure. Unfortunately, we can find no information about the other 90% of worthwhile involvement with the public. Those transactions are invisible.

We remember and use the vivid events and are unaware of the mundane. A police officer friend once told me the job is 99% boring and 1% too exciting. Which do you suppose the media reports to you?

Your defence

Think ordinary before exotic. Understand how the baseline statistic works. The baseline is where the most likely probability can be found.

In medical training doctors are told, “If you hear hoof beats, think horse not zebra.” 

Society aims to fix routine problems

The idea of society is to learn from experience and create cures for common events. If we let the unusual be treated as common, we will end up in a morass of detail, fine arguments, and deception. It is impossible to create generalities from rare events. It is a mistake to try.

Societies are about creating sound solutions to common problems. The uncommon should be addressed as exceptions.

In law the maxim is, “Hard cases make bad law.”

Be cautious about destroying old solutions to deal with an infrequent exception. Most old laws and societal guidelines make sense. As Chesterton say, “Before you tear down a fence, know why it was put there in the first place.”


Most things come from the realm of likely. When the media presents exciting, vivid, and brilliantly produced material, you should create the ordinary baseline. Your job is to unpaint the picture and notice what’s missing. Then decide.

Only then think about how the exciting relates as unusual. if you start with the exciting exception you risk harming the tried and true methods that deal with the ordinary and unreportable. Most people are treated well enough that they don’t notice. A few are treated poorly and we should address that. But as exceptions, not the norm.

Some takeaway thoughts

“Defund the police” might not be the dumbest idea of all time, but it would be part of the discussion of dumbest ideas..

There are many more policies that relate to what the media tells us is interesting and exciting. Socialism, racism, hierarchy, conspiracy, sexism, transgender, and insurrection. Politicians use the exceptions to accrete power. They don’t tell us how uncommon those are. Learn to adjust for that.

Find the things that allow co-operation not confrontation.

I help people have more retirement income and larger, more liquid estates.

Call in Canada 705-927-4770, or email don@moneyfyi.com

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