Simple Ideas

Plaza de Contraproducente

Blogging | May 13, 2012

This is a bustling place, this plaza. I see people there all the time. In general, they are quite animated. But there are those who are also there napping under the trees. The only commonality here is that everyone is engaged in counterproductive behavior.

its not to hard to argue that how far you go in life is determined to some degree by how much time you spend in this plaza. Granted, the definition of counterproductive varies from person to person, so in truth, two people could be doing exactly the opposite things and still be counterproductive. A supermodel digging into a gallon of ice cream while standing next to a Sumo wrestler on a hunger strike could be simple examples. It is not a right and wrong thing, it is more based on what you are doing and whether it is moving you and those around you forward or backward.

This is essentially the premise for Daniel Kahneman's book, THINKING FAST, THINKING SLOW. In that book he examines the way people arrive at irrational decisions. He delves into the psychological mechanism that cause people to make decisions that really don't work out.

I'm only a few chapters into the book, but here is the rough idea. People have a fast system (system 1) that is in the forefront of their decision making. It is the program that gets you through most of the day. If you drive a car with a stick shift, you can shift gears using system 1 while holding a conversation or listening to a tune and not really be aware that you are shifting. It is nearly your autopilot. The other system, system 2, is what you use to solve hard problems, like multiplying 78 by 23. If you are out walking and asked to do that quickly, you will almost certainly stop walking. It takes that much energy to do the math that your system 1 has to step back from the walking task and hand over the control to system 2 to do the math.

I think that most of the folks who hang out in the Plaza here are operating in system 1. Clearly I was in system 1 when I cracked open my skull a year ago. I was operating on autopilot. You would have thought that after I had that counterproductive event, I'd have changed how I surfed so as to never make that same mistake again. I didn't. I made the same mistake 3 or 4 more times, much to my surprise. System 1 was still in charge while surfing. It took about 4 episodes for me to get system 2 to reprogram system to get me to where I avoided that same mistake. Since then, I've not visited the Plaza while surfing.

I see coworkers at the Plaza at times. They react with system 1 to students who are giving them very clear feedback. The students are surfing the internet (due to the fact that the instructor is chronically boring) and the instructor see that and goes into a system 1 response "Close your laptops and listen to me!" is the usual shout. The students comply and the instructor ends up with a terrible end of course rating. The system 2 response to this is "I need to pick up the pace or do something to get the students engaged in class." But those instructors hang out in the Plaza instead.

I'm not writing about causation here. There are many ways to get to this station. One way is certainty. Lets say you are 100% sure this is your stop. You have no doubt. So you don't peek out and see the supermodel gorging on ice cream or the sumo wrestler on the hunger strike. You hop off the train at this station and then are surprised at the results. Take me and this piece. I have nothing that comes even close to a working knowledge of English grammar let alone Spanish. I'm nearly 100% the title to this piece is grammatically incorrect. But who knows, there may be multiple versions of the language and this is a passable grammar in one of them. It's that doubt that I'm talking about. I was going for grammatically incorrect as in noun article adjective...but really, it may not have been as counterproductive as I had hoped.

In the end, it is not the causation that matters here. Perhaps the other teachers are responding emotionally when they snap out, but the emotion isn't the problem, entering the Plaza is. See, there were no emotions involved in the surfing experience I went through, so I can't tie the output to the root cause. It is the place that drives the problem, not the reason the person is at the place.

I think the key is to give your system 2 a chance to retrain system 1. It doesn't matter why you are in the plaza. If emotion is the A train to that place, well you can't do much about that. All I'm suggesting is that you find a way to stay on the train when the doors open. The next stop is bound to lead to a more productive outcome.

Any Comments?

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