A chain reaction of doubt

Adam Grant said that “be yourself” is terrible career advice. Brene Brown responded by championing authenticity and honesty. And I had this to say on the debate.

“The saddest thing about this all is that I want to agree with Brene Brown. I want to believe that authenticity is the way to get ahead. That being yourself is what it takes. I want to believe that authenticity wins. But right now, in the world we inhabit, it doesn’t.”

After further reflection, I stand by that judgement. But I can’t help thinking, maybe I’m biased.

In Peter Bevelin’s Seeking Wisdom, there’s a chunky section on ‘The Psychology of Misjudgements’. Some of the biases that distort our decisions and perceptions include:

  • “Self-deception and denial — distortion of reality to reduce pain or increase pleasure. Includes wishful thinking.”
  • “Impatience — valuing the present more highly than the future.”
  • “Bias from reciprocation tendency — repaying in kind what others have done for us or to us like favors, concessions, information and attitudes.”
  • “Status-quo bias and do-nothing syndrome — keeping things the way they are. Includes minimising effort and a preference for default options.”

There are way more. To combat them, Charlie Munger and Warren Buffett (Bevelin’s subjects), use checklists. They work through a decision and ask of each bias, “am I being influenced by this? If I was, what would it look like? How would this bias change my decision?”

Thinking back to the first impression and the consequent judgement I made about it, I asked myself a question. “Do I think that just because Brene Brown’s idea feels nicer? Because it’s how the world should be? Do I align with Adam Grant’s position because I’ve learnt that it’s usually more beneficial to have a pessimistic worldview? Am I being deliberately negative in order to be realistic?”

Thinking about this, trying to communicate my train of thought, is hard. It makes me realise just how treacherous and easily poisoned our decisions and judgement are. One simple question can up-end what we believed to be a solid position. The examination of one small doubt can set up a chain reaction that leaves us doubting every judgement we’ve made.