7 thinking errors we often make…

We all make mistakes. Once bitten twice shy? Unfortunately, that does not hold when it comes to thinking. We do not recognize thinking errors as such. By thinking about how you think you can avoid these mistakes.

Your brain loves shortcuts. Finding answers takes time, time you can use for many other purposes. The downside of shortcuts is that they can – and often will – give you the wrong answer. Below you find seven common mistakes.

Tying the wrong concepts together

  • Confusing causation and correlation: When two things happen at the same moment, or when one thing happens just before the other, the conclusion that the one caused the other is easily made. Yet both events can be caused by something else as was evident in Brasil when the first efforts were implemented to roll out the Internet in that country (beware: the article is in Portuguese). Rain and lightning go together, but there is no causal relation.
  • Over-generalization: what is true for one is not per se true for all. If you and three of your friends enjoyed a day at the beach, it does not mean everybody likes that. And the fact that some people committed fraud is no reason to believe everyone does (it is a reason to be cautious though).
  • Nothing happened – yet: evidence is needed to be sure something happened, but lack of evidence can also mean there is no evidence yet. If nothing happened in the past this is no guarantee nothing will ever happen. Stating that you have never been in a car accident is no reason not to wear seatbelts.

Letting others convince you

  • Appeal to authority: even experts can be wrong. What is really important are the reasons and evidence that support the judgment, not the judge. Never take the judgment of an expert, your dad, or any authority for granted without knowing their reasons. Look for the evidence the authority provides.
  • Appeal to consensus: if many people think the same, then it is likely but not certain that they are right. Once, all people believed the world was flat. If all would listen to the majority then we would still believe the world to be flat.

Looking at it from the wrong angle

  • Confirmation bias: We all have the tendency to notice only those facts that support what we already think is true. This is just the way our brain functions. If you lost trust in your partner, it is hard to see the positive attempts he makes as sincere. You are biased to see his efforts as a confirmation of his unreliability.
  • Anthropomorphism: we sometimes make the mistake to attribute qualities and properties that only people can have to animals and things. Your dog does not think the way you do, your pc does not purposefully crash to annoy you (blame the people at Microsoft), and a story will not tell you anything (but people do tell you stories).

So what to do about it?

Being aware that these thinking errors exist will help you notice when you make them. Use this knowledge to your own benefit, to keep yourself from committing these errors and to show others when they are wrong. There are so many myths that influence our lives. Just look at the number of myths around breast cancer. Don’t let this sort of things get in your way too much!

Synergy – How to make 1 plus 1 equal 3

Making one plus one equal three or even more, that is what synergy is about.

Basically, synergizing is a combination of thinking win/win and understanding the other. Covey adds one aspect to these earlier discussed habits: we need to understand, seek and appreciate the differences.

3 things you need to keep in mind to synergize

  • Your worldview is not objective. Everyone has different experiences and these experiences shape how we view the world. Realizing this is the case for your worldview too is necessary for creating synergy.
  • Be different. New perspectives and insights can cause your worldview to change. If someone thinks exactly like you it is hard to achieve new insights through conversation. If you and your colleague or friend have different points of view it is worthwhile to understand where the differences come from. Accepting this will help you stay healthier, younger, and happier!
  • Appreciate the difference. Besides recognizing the other has a different point of view also appreciate this other perspective. The other must have good reasons to think this way, so try to understand and learn from him. Ask why the other is choosing his position instead of assuming his position to be nonsense beforehand.

A limitation I would like to add

Covey suggests that differences are not logical, they are psychological. I suppose this means you and I have different experiences and hence see the world differently.

There is a more philosophical and deeper problem behind different experiences that might partly go together with this idea, but also complicates it. When you’re faced with violence at home, stand up and do something about it if possible in any way!

There are a few questions we will never be capable of answering. An easy example is the question of whether God exists or not. We cannot prove he does, neither can we prove he does not. But you have an idea about that, just like I do. Depending on what perspective you take (he exists/he does not exist), your argumentation structure will be different. But can we call this psychological? Or even logical?

Through our experiences, we develop not only a worldview, but we also develop a general understanding of how the world works. Everyone develops his own logical construction of the world. This logical construction needs not only to be based on experience, but it can also be built on arguments and is a bit (way!) more complex than Covey pictured.

Necessary conclusion from this limitation

Covey concludes that he does not want to talk to someone who thinks the same as he does. It is exactly the difference in thought that brings value and makes synergy possible.

I can see the value of differences. I also see how people that differ can synergize more than people who are the same. I believe, however, that we always differ from one another. As long as the other is not playing up to me and we are still listening to one another, there should not be too big a problem to create synergy.

I would rather say that for synergy to occur, the differences should not be too big. As Leo Strauss (a political philosopher) points out, when our views of the world are too far apart, we can no longer understand what the other is saying. That makes a discussion useless.

When we differ too much in our perception of the world there is less room for understanding.