Functional stupidity - Deepstash

Functional stupidity

Organizations often hire smart and talented people, but then create cultures and decision-making processes that do not encourage them to raise concerns or make suggestions. 

Everyone is encouraged to look at the positive interpretations, which leads to "self-reinforcing stupidity."

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One possible reason for the "optimism bias" is found in the way we learn new information. People are quicker to change their beliefs when the information is better than expected, compared to information that is worse than expected.

  • If people were told that lockdown would be eased in two weeks, people would quickly update their beliefs. But if experts said it would last longer, people would be less likely to update their beliefs. They will make statements like "I don't really believe it" or "things change."
  • People may underestimate their personal risk of infection.
  • People may fail to adopt precautions like social distancing.

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Groupthink

In uncertain conditions, we look to each other for guidance, even if the people are not the best guides. People are tending to do what they see is the social norm. It may explain panic buying.

At government level and other large organizations, the tendency to conform unconsciously make intelligent and experienced decision-makers stop discussing options and uncritically accept whatever plan they think everyone else is settling on.

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Missing the signs

There are many known psychological processes that cause individuals and organizations to miss the signs of a coming crisis – even when the signs are noticeable.

One reason is known as the "optimism bias" where people think they have a better than average prospect or are overly optimistic about their own future.

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Five characteristics of the best-prepared “high-reliability” organizations:

  • They are preoccupied with failure. They think a lot about the ways they could miss their mark.
  • They encourage employees to avoid simplification and embrace complexity.
  • They encourage their employees to tackle problems and not hiding them.
  • They focus on the here on now.
  • They have flexible decision-making structures.

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Outcomes bias it thinking that because things turned out reasonably good, we can underestimate how close they came to going wrong.

In the past 20 years, there have been two outbreaks of diseases caused by the new viruses. The outbreak of 2003 killed 774 people before it was contained, and the Mers outbreak in 2012 has killed 858. The new virus has far surpassed both.

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Even if people are given clear evidence that a crisis is unfolding, they may deny the reality of it. 

If people want to believe something, they may only look for evidence to support that point of view, and ignore or dismiss anything that contradicts it.

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Decision-making obstacles
Psychological reasons why we find decision-making difficult right now:
  • The realness of the present threat: the new virus is really contagious and people are dying from it around the world.
  • The amount of uncertainty about the virus: the real number of infected people, the speed of its spread, future projections.
  • We have little control over the situation. This creates anxiety. In addition, we may be doing our part, but it is hard to know which actions and programs are having an impact on creating the absence of the disease.

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Panic Buying

The world is seeing panic buying in supermarkets, with items like toilet paper, milk, soda, hand sanitizers, etc. flying off the shelves, especially in places with confirmed cases of the virus.

Panic buying is a psychological mechanism fueled by anxiety along with a herd mentality. People hoard stuff in panic, due to fear of the unknown, according to experts.

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Concept creep

... or moving the goalposts, it happens when problems never seem to go away because people keep changing how they define them.

This can be a frustrating experience, because you don't really know if you’re making progress solving a problem, when you keep redefining what it means to solve it.

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