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Undoing Needed because Mental Illusions Impact Us

I just finished Michael Lewis’s great book, “The Undoing Project“.

This insightful book helped me better understand the groundbreaking work completed by Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky that includes their Prospect Theory.  It also outlined how their work led to the development of Behavioral Economics and the undoing of many traditional areas.  It probably was more meaningful to me because I read it after reading and learning a lot from other work that was done by Daniel Kahneman (see Unique Well-Being Influences of Experience and MemoryEmotions Drive Actions: Create a Strong Positive Picture and others).

I believe I will have many more posts about this book as I learn and connect more.  One of the most interesting things I got from the book was the metaphor of illusions Michael Lewis used.  Just as the picture below causes us to believe these lines are of different sizes, Kahneman and Tversky demonstrated how our mind has what could be called mental illusions that cause us to believe things are different than what we think they are.

Kahneman and Tversky did not call them mental illusions but Heuristics. Heuristics are mental shortcuts or things our minds do automatically to draw a conclusion.  These mental shortcuts are innate in us and occur without us knowing, therefore these mistakes happen and we don’t believe they happened.   This is much like the above picture, in that we do not believe they are the same size even though we know they are because of the picture below.  Thus it is an optical illusion.

They demonstrated how our mind has mental illusions or biases and they identified these as those heuristics.  In one of their original linked 1974 Science article, Judgment under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases , they outlined their initial findings.  For this article they described the Representativeness, Availability, and Anchoring heuristics. Their studies and many that have followed have demonstrated the prevalence of these biases and the impact these biases have on our lives.

For the representativeness heuristic they demonstrated how people ignore base rates, or likely outcomes, and are biased by a narrative or a story when the story is representative of a different outcome.  Their findings demonstrated, as have many studies since, that prior probabilities will be neglected in favor of a representative description provided.  This therefore then causes a mental illusion.

In expanding this finding, it can be understood how people can be misled or manipulated if these biases are understood.  Their original studies provided a situation where there were 100 people, 70 of which were lawyers and 30 engineers.  Despite knowing this, after a description was given of a random member of that group of 100 that was representative of a lawyer or an engineer, those initial 70-30 base rate probabilities were ignored.  The participant instead used the description or story to predict which profession the random participant held – lawyer or engineer. If no description of a random participant was provided, people correctly used the base rates provided to make their prediction.  If this summary is not clear due to its brevity, I encourage you to read the book or the many examples of these studies provided online.  Overall these studies demonstrated an innate mental bias we have related to stories or descriptions over known probabilities.

In another finding, their studies demonstrated the availability heuristic. This heuristic shows a bias for that which most easily can come to mind because we were recently made aware of it .  When something is on the mind because we are thinking about it,  it is available. People then overestimate the occurrence of what is on their mind because it can easily be imagined.  For example, think of how people changed their beliefs about the likelihood of shark attacks in the 70’s after the  Jaws movie or the likelihood of a plane hijacking after 9-11 as compared to before.  This is also something for us to be aware of so we can understand more about why we think the way we do.  While it may seem confusing, as was mentioned in the book, optical illusions are used to help us understand how the eye is tricked and understanding how mental illusions work should help us better understand how we think and how our brain works.

While there is much more to discuss, another interesting finding that current research has replicated and shown to be true is anchoring.  That is how an initial idea will anchor or create a starting point and how that anchored starting point is created without our awareness.   All the estimates we make come from an initial value and this initial value alters or adjusts our future estimates. Their initial tests demonstrated people would guess, when just given 5 second showing, a calculation of 8 x 7 x 6 x 5 x 4 x 3 x 2 x 1 would be much higher than 1 x 2 x 3 x 4x 5 x 6 x 7 x 8 even though they are equal. This bias plays a large role in many situations in life, such as when determine what to pay for something.  If you go back to look, you will see that both calculations have to be equal, despite our initial thoughts of an estimated total.

This post just touches on their pervasive ideas about how we think when uncertain as described in Michael Lewis’s The Undoing Project.  My future posts will discuss how these ideas can be used.  I strongly encourage you to learn about and think how these ideas can be used to generate comprehensive improvements by creating pervasive, reciprocal, selfish, selfless, synergistic interactions so everyone and everything benefits.

Below is a link to a short clip of many by Michal Lewis about this book, I encourage you to explore!


I look forward to hearing about your successes.

Be Well’r,
Craig Becker

Be selfish, selfless, & synergistic so everyone and everything benefits!



Connecting Dots: Systems Inside Systems Inside Systems…

Each part is a system, inside a system that is inside a system for infinity.  Each part inside other parts must contribute to the bigger system or in time it will be eliminated.  At least that is how it worked for evolution. If new parts did not contribute to making life more livable, it was eliminated.  Man has changed this system.  As we evolve, we must understand how to be part of this system of which we belong. Organic farming is a helpful system, we must think how what we add can benefit everyone and everything. When each system contributes to a bigger system, both systems benefit.  W. Edwards Deming called this appreciation for a system or systems appreciation.

Organizations that used his philosophy flourished and profited.

For organization management he explained:

Taking a systems approach results in management viewing the organization in terms of many internal and external interrelated connections and interactions, as opposed to discrete and independent departments or processes governed by various chains of command. When all the connections and interactions are working together to accomplish a shared aim, a business can achieve tremendous results—from improving the quality of its products and services, to raising the entire esprit de corps of a company.

My favorite columnist Thomas Friedman describes the interdependency of our system in his February 8, 2017 column: Connecting Trump’s Dots.  This is a another demonstration of how everything is connected and how impacting one part of the system ripples through the rest of the system.  While it is impossible to know exactly what will happen, the goal of having a positive ripple should be paramount.

I look forward to hearing about how you generate comprehensive improvements by creating pervasive, reciprocal, selfish, selfless, synergistic interactions so everyone and everything benefits.

I look forward to hearing about your successes.

Be Well’r,
Craig Becker

Be selfish, selfless, & synergistic so everyone and everything benefits!

We Can Get Better with Practice

I think we all want to be better at what we care about. My coaches used to tell me, it was not practice that makes perfect, but practicing perfection that would help me get better.  Practice meant not only working on skills, but also visualizing what I wanted to do.  I was taught to visualize events in as much detail as possible because doing this would help, which I believe it did in sports.  In addition, this visualization also helped me prepare for unexpected consequences because I was better able to adapt.

In bringing the idea of practice to our daily lives, Eduardo Briceno provides a clear and insightful explanation in his TED Presentation, “How to Get Better at the Things You Care About“.  He explains, practice and performance are different functions.  He goes on to explain that only when we reserve time to practice, can we improve. Just performing is not enough. Practice is important because those deliberate attempts improve later performances.

I took his example of deliberate practice to work on my typing.  This deliberate practice has helped me improve my typing abilities. Johann Von Goeth offers more thoughts about what we should chose to practice.  He suggested, that when we think about what we practice, we should practice how to do things that also help us master ourselves.

“Whatever liberates our spirit without giving us mastery over ourselves is destructive.”   – Johann Von Goethe

I hope this inspires you to work on and get better at what you care about.  For only when we become more competent will we be able to Practice Paneugenesis t cause all good by generating comprehensive improvements with pervasive, reciprocal,selfish, selfless, synergistic interactions so everyone and everything benefits.

I look forward to hearing about your successes.

Be Well’r,
Craig Becker

Be selfish, selfless, & synergistic so everyone and everything benefits!


The Opposite of Paneugenesis??


Thomas Friedman is one of my favorite columnists and authors.  His linked March 1, 2017 NYT’s column, Tony Blair’s Lesson for President Trump, seemed to me to describe the opposite of paneugenesis. What do you think?

Paneugenesis is the creation of all good (pan=all, eu=good, genesis=creating) and is defined as actions, by individuals, groups or organizations to create the best outcomes for all parties, with a byproduct of pervasive reciprocal positive benefits.  The process generates comprehensive improvements by creating pervasive, reciprocal, selfish, selfless, synergistic interactions.


Thomas Friedman ended his column,

“The world is a win-lose real estate market for him. In the short term, he may rack up some discrete wins. But America became as prosperous and secure as it is today by building a world in our image — not just a world where we’re the only winners.”

My plan is to practice paneugenesis in my life to help everyone and everything.  What do you think should be done?

Be Well’r,
Craig Becker

Be selfish, selfless, & synergistic so everyone and everything benefits!

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