In this unusually hot summer, I’ve had a hard time making progress on my reading list. The upside is that I listened to more interviews. One stood out among the many excellent ones: Getting Better by Being Wrong (the Knowledge Project with Shane Parish interviewing ex-professional poker player and cognitive psychologist Annie Duke) – the funniest, most inspiring podcast I’ve come across this summer!
Sharing it might be a little self-interested – because precisely the people who I think of as perfect clients will react most enthusiastically to her core insight: that we need to keep improving our maps of the world, and for that, we need to know how to work with, and around the automatic filters that normally keep us from learning. We need to question into what informs our preferences, and thus, lead more examined lives generally.
No doubt about it, losing doesn’t feel good – because it lights our limbic system up. Especially when we attribute failure to our own poor decision-making, to our mental maps of the world, and our beliefs, losing can feel like an attack on our identity. This is why we like to attribute negative outcomes to factors outside of our control – luck, other people, or circumstances. This preference, if left unchecked, has an expensive downside: while it protects our ego, it prevents us from learning from experience: we don’t update our models of reality and don’t improve our understanding of the world. Even more to our disadvantage, we never learn to keep our emotions in check to avoid similarly sketchy attributions in future.
What gets in the way to learning is pain – which on the other hand (the skin in the game) is our strongest motivation to start learning in the first place. So, “neutralizing” our initial gut reaction to failure, so that we might come out with a more reflective stance, is a prerequisite to learning… Brené Brown’s “Embracing Vulnerability” TED talk (I have a 2-page summary if you are interested, yours for the asking) may contain some valuable pointers to what can stand in the way.
Hear about why it pays to get away from empathetic confirmatory buddies (or colleagues), and find people who will use an exploratory style on your thinking instead – in the case of poker, the difference is in serious amounts of money! Her shockingly simple suggestion is to get together with others, and help each other see through the biases we all use so skilfully, and naturally – so we get to have at least a choice. That alone more than pays for the book. Hats off!
Another great point is why arguing to be accurate makes so much more sense than arguing to be right… It’s all easy to see when presented with the hard evidence, but still unflatteringly hard to learn, and especially to implement in one’s own personal and professional life – and then in the entire team.
As well as being very erudite, Annie Duke is also highly entertaining: like when she explains that instead of being better learners, highly intelligent people are often only better at fooling themselves. Our brain always picks confirming evidence for whatever story we are telling. Duke argues that a thoughtful intro like “I first thought I might only be prone to xxx, but then I looked more deeply at the evidence and found yyy” is a great way to set us up for fooling ourselves…
If you want to find out more about tricks we play on ourselves and others, definitely get her book Thinking in Bets, and read some of the recommended literature, with Kahnemann’s Thinking Fast and Slow being a great start.
You are welcome to first have a look at my 8-page compilation complete with the best quotes and some reading tips – just pop me an email!