The ‘wise’ leader…

Posted on November 24, 2010

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Professor Wiggly: ” The anchoring and adjustment model of decision-making provides the following guidelines for decision-making under uncertainty. 1) Because you can’t see the future you have to travel there on beliefs – believing is seeing. Therefore, your predictions or imaginary bridges are not based on reliable information, but on unproven assumptions, past experiences, biases, guesses, etc. – no wonder we get it wrong a lot of the time, no wonder 50% of the marriages end in divorce, no wonder the stock market crashes, no wonder some drugs have  disastrous, long-term effects, , no wonder we get infected by super-bugs in hospitals, no wonder experts get it wrong, including your doctor, your broker and the weather man. …. 2)  But we also get it right a lot of the time – that’s not because we’re very smart, but because some patterns of the unfolding future are simple and have been relatively stable or predictable such as: increases in life expectancy, the changing seasons, the rich get richer, no big comets have hit the earth in thousands of  years, the sun keeps rising and setting etc. But just because they’re predictable now doesn’t mean they will continue to be – oops,  her comes a market melt down, her comes a comet! 3) Since we can’t see the future we rely on beliefs: some people have complete confidence in their imaginary bridges – the bigots.  Their advantage is they have no trouble making decisions, the disadvantage is they don’t learn from experience. The reasonable person – one who tries to keep an open mind does well with relatively simple problems but when dealing with complex ones soon becomes confused by information overload – by unreliable and/or conflicting information. So they procrastinate, become anxious or depressed and try to buy confidence with booze and pills, or blindly follow a leader (a bigot – parading as an expert).

Jenny: “That’s a pretty bleak picture you’re painting Professor.”

Professor Wiggly: “Yes, but there’s some good news as well. Through the centuries humans have learned some strategies that reduce the risks or costs of uncertain futures, such as: the folk wisdom ‘don’t put all your eggs in one basket’ – recall the times with high infant mortality when families had many children, attempting to ensure that some of them lived long enough to look after their parents in old age, we buy insurance and pay for fire departments to help deal with uncertain futures. We also pay ‘experts’ of all kinds who promise that they can read the future and help us navigate it successfully – including stock brokers, ‘wellness’ consultants (diet, exercise, yoga), weather men and tea-cup readers.

Peter:” Ok, Ok… but I still don’t see how the anchoring and adjustment model helps us deal with uncertain futures – all you talk about is bigots – people who have complete confidence in their imaginary bridges and stay anchored in one place, or whimps who lack confidence and procrastinate, or blindly follow the leader, or buy false confidence thru booze and pills. Come on… there must be good news in addition to insurance and fire departments as ways of managing uncertainty?”

Jenny: “Peter’s right – at least talk about the kind of experts or leaders we should look for.”

Professor Wiggly: ” According to the anchoring and adjustment model a wise leader would look like this. 1) they would have strong but not blind confidence in their predictions. That way they  have enough confidence to make decisions but unlike the bigot are open-minded enough to learn a few things from patterns of negative experience. 2) Furthermore, they not only talk the talk but also have walked the walk so they’re familiar with bridge building and with bridges that have failed. In Brief their strong confidence is based on extensive experience. 3) What does it mean when I say they are open-minded enough to learn by experience. It means that they can not only learn from their own experience, but also from that of others – so they can be effective team members. 4) But unlike so called ‘reasonable’  or rational people they protect themselves from information overload. To avoid information overload you have to learn when to shut down your open-mindedness and make a decision. The world doesn’t stop and wait for you to come to a rational decision – to study all possibilities, collect and wiegh ALL the reliable, unreliable and conflicting evidence.”

Jenny: “So your saying that so-called ‘wise’ leader may not get it right but at least, unlike the bigot he or she can learn something from experience, and unlike the open-minded, so-called rational person, can make decisions in a timely manner without getting  bogged down in endless data collection and analysis. ”

Peter: ” I like that notion that to make a decision you have to turn off your learning capacity, you have to stop collecting and analysing  data – even though there’s seldom, if ever, enough reliable information about the future to do it rationally. A newspaper has to do the same thing. It has to meet deadlines,  it has to shut down its news gathering and analysis and go to press.”

Jenny: “That’s an interesting idea, seeing experts, including scientists, as operating a news services, having to rely on fallible reporters (researchers) and fallible editors (journal editors and granting agencies) to issue fallible news reports. That why sciencing – a verb – more accurately describes the on going and ever changing scientific process than science – a noun does.”

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