Hap­pi­ness at work: mind­ful­ness, anal­y­sis and well-be­ing

The Smart Manager - - Reading Room - By r anand

We think we know our­selves. An­cient wis­dom as well as mod­ern psy­chol­ogy has shown this to be one big ex­ag­ger­a­tion. The mo­tive source of our be­hav­ior or the so-called logic of our choices is en­veloped in mist. We know not why we do what we do. In fact, some dis­tor­tions of our mind and rea­son­ing are univer­sal dis­tor­tions. All men are prone to the same dis­tor­tions. Through sys­tem­atic ex­per­i­ments, be­havioural econ­o­mists have demon­strated that we do have in us a dis­torted choice­mak­ing process.

Some of our dis­tor­tions are per­sonal, not ev­ery­one has them. The dis­tor­tion that Lady Mac­beth ex­pe­ri­enced when­ever she thought of clean­li­ness was per­sonal. They arise be­cause of our unique ex­pe­ri­ences, of­ten from early child­hood and our re­ac­tions to them.

Sev­eral hu­man ex­pe­ri­ences are univer­sal. Birth, be­ing nursed or not nursed, child­hood, pu­berty, moth­er­hood, father­hood, mourn­ing at­ten­dant rit­u­als, so­cial sanc­tions and taboos (what­ever they are) are univer­sal. Our psy­ches, there­fore, have cer­tain com­mon struc­tures. But the dis­tor­tions in them may be spe­cific. Any and ev­ery such dis­tor­tion stands in the way of our see­ing the world ac­cu­rately, truth­fully.

Well-be­ing re­quires see­ing the world truth­fully. It is about see­ing it vividly, cor­rectly, just the way it is. The sto­ics firmly be­lieved that be­ing un-de­luded is be­ing well. Just like poor eye­sight can be cor­rected through glasses, can our dis­torted per­spec­tives of re­al­ity be cor­rected? The an­swer, un­for­tu­nately, is a ‘No’. We can­not have per­fect 6/6 vi­sion. We are al­ways vul­ner­a­ble to dis­tor­tions. You may ask, then why bother? The good news is that we can ‘min­i­mize’ these dis­tor­tions. When we do get dis­torted as we in­evitably will be, we can snap out of them faster. This is one good rea­son to make the ef­fort.

How to spot the univer­sal dis­tor­tions? How to spot per­sonal dis­tor­tions? Why should we have per­sonal dis­tor­tions?

univer­sal dis­tor­tions

Be­havioural eco­nom­ics ex­am­ines the way we make choices. The be­havioural econ­o­mists con­tend that the hu­man be­ing is not a ra­tio­nal per­son as clas­si­cal econ­o­mists be­lieved. The ra­tio­nal per­son would see what is right for him/her and then make the choice. After sev­eral

ob­ser­va­tions and ex­per­i­ments, the be­havioural econ­o­mists have con­firmed that hu­man choice-mak­ing is flawed. The good news is that there are ways to min­i­mize the flaws.

What is the ori­gin of these flaws in the first place?

A short an­swer to this ques­tion was given by Daniel Kah­ne­man: We have two sys­tems by which we deal with our lives. One sys­tem that is de­lib­er­ate, slow and log­i­cal in ar­riv­ing at a de­ci­sion and the other that is fast. The faster sys­tem is op­er­a­tional in us most of the time. This sys­tem is op­er­a­tional when we are tired or low on sugar. It is im­pul­sive but er­ror-prone. Sub­se­quently, au­thors like Rolf Do­belli even iden­ti­fied 100 dis­tor­tions in­her­ent in this fast sys­tem of think­ing and de­cid­ing.

Fun­da­men­tally, there are three ma­jor dis­tor­tions of the fast sys­tem of think­ing ac­cord­ing to Kah­ne­man. All the oth­ers are vari­a­tions or com­bi­na­tions of these three fun­da­men­tal dis­tor­tions.

The pri­mary dis­tor­tions are (a) an­chor­ing or prim­ing, (b) base rate ne­glect and (c) loss aver­sion. These are cog­ni­tive dis­tor­tions. Even the smartest amongst us suf­fer from these dis­tor­tions.

an­chor­ing or prim­ing

Would you be­lieve if I say that the de­ci­sions you took about which job of­fer to ac­cept was in­flu­enced by some ran­dom pic­tures you hap­pened to see 5 min­utes be­fore the de­ci­sion? Would you be­lieve that your es­ti­ma­tion of an in­vest­ment as risky or less risky was in­flu­enced by whether your tod­dler held or dropped the toy ear­lier in the day? Would you be­lieve that your higher es­ti­mate of a cer­tain bid was in­flu­enced by the num­ber plate of the car stand­ing in front of you in the sig­nal this morn­ing?

Am I in my senses, you may ask. What has the tod­dler hold­ing a toy to do with the risk per­cep­tion of an in­vest­ment? Do you think one would in­crease the bid­ding price be­cause the num­ber plate of a ran­dom car in front of me showed a higher num­ber?

Be­havioural econ­o­mists have proved that our lazy, snappy mind does not bother to think through is­sues. It is hard to ar­rive at a log­i­cal start­ing point for ev­ery­thing. In the ab­sence of the log­i­cal start­ing point, the mind just starts with a ran­dom event it is able to im­me­di­ately ac­cess. This ran­dom event serves to an­chor the so­lu­tion or de­ci­sion or an­swer to the ques­tion in front of us. Since what serves as the an­chor or start­ing point for our de­ci­sion or es­ti­ma­tion is ran­dom, we get dif­fer­ent de­ci­sions de­pend­ing on such ar­bi­trary start­ing points. You can imag­ine what sort of wrong de­ci­sions this could lead to. We are an­chored or primed by what just hap­pened to us. The fol­low­ing ex­per­i­ments ex­plain this bias in ac­tion in all of us.

In an ex­per­i­ment, 28 groups of 4 were as­signed two dif­fer­ent tasks. Task 1 was to ro­tate a roulette wheel and note down the score (0-100). Task 2 was to es­ti­mate the per­cent­age of Ama­zon rain forests we have lost in the last 100 years. The only trick was that task 1 was not ran­dom but primed. 14 groups were as­signed to roulette wheels that re­turned a num­ber less than 20. Among the other groups, 14 had equally rigged roulette wheels that would re­turn a num­ber greater than 80.

When they went to task 2, an in­de­pen­dent factual and ra­tio­nal ques­tion, an in­ter­est­ing thing hap­pened. The first set of groups who had a num­ber less than 20 in the first task, es­ti­mated the loss of rain forests to be close to 37%. The sec­ond set of groups that had a num­ber greater than 80 in the first task es­ti­mated the an­swer to the same ques­tion to be about 66%.

Be­havioural econ­o­mists have proved that our lazy, snappy mind does not bother to think through is­sues.

R Anand SAGE Re­sponse2018, 232 pages, Pa­per­back

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