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The tribal thinking trap

Social Media World

Logic Bubbles and WYSIATI are two big ideas that are going to become increasingly relevant for all of us.

In the late 1980’s, the philosopher Edward DeBono coined the term “logic bubble” to explain why decisions that we make, for perfectly rational reasons, can sometimes appear nonsensical to others; and vice versa. These choices make sense to us, because they’re based on our feelings, our assumptions, our values and experiences; they make perfect sense inside our own, personal “logic bubbles”.

At around the same time, the psychologist Daniel Khaneman coined the term WYSIATI (what you see is all there is) to explain one of the problems in how we all think. His research shows that the vast majority of our decisions and judgements are overwhelmingly intuitive, and they work on the assumption that we know all the facts. Even when our conscious brains know that we don’t, our intuition believes that we do, and there are plenty of experiments that prove it.

These two concepts affect us all, every day. Sometimes to our detriment. For instance, when a Kodak engineer first developed a digital camera, the executive community killed it off. The quality was terrible – it could never match that of film; people would always want pictures they can hold, look at, frame; and besides, Kodak had the best infrastructure in the world for film processing.

Their decision made absolute sense inside their collective logic bubble. Unfortunately most of their customers lived in a different bubble.

Even more unfortunately, the idea that their customers might live in a different bubble, that quality might not be that important, or that in the future an electronic image might be easier to look at and share, never occurred. More importantly, the thought of even seeking out those opinions and ideas, never occurred. What they saw was all there was.

Why is this becoming increasingly important?

In an age where social media is such a big part of people’s lives, more and more of people’s social circles, their influences, their sources of facts and opinions, is online. And that makes a fundamental difference, because it gives us complete control over a huge part of what we see and hear. It gives us all the ability to listen only to those people we like, and to filter out, un-friend and to literally ‘mute’ everyone else.

The online community may be geographically and demographically diverse, but attitudinally, those who join, and stay in our social networks are far, far more likely to think like us, talk like us and act like us. And they’re far more likely to reinforce, rather than challenge, our logic-bubble views of the world.

Add to that the WYSIATI effect and you get the recent elections and polls. Views are becoming more tribal and entrenched, and the people who vote one way genuinely can’t understand those who vote the other. It’s not just that social media is narrowing our horizons, even while it’s broadening our reach, it’s that we’re barely aware there is a horizon, or that a significant part of the world may be on the other side of it, living in a very different logic bubble.

Why is it relevant to you and your business?

Because it’s incredibly easy, now more than ever, to fall into the tribal thinking trap, where everything makes sense in your own logic bubble, and other perspectives need not apply. Nobody wants to be the next Kodak or Blockbuster, or as one of my clients puts it, “We don’t want to do a Tesco”.

But there is a way out. You escape the trap by making the conscious decision to seek out contrary and challenging facts and views. You read things you don’t expect to agree with, hire external advisors who will bring different perspectives, push yourself out of your unconscious comfort zone, and I hope this article will inspire you to do just that.

I was once asked by a client if I had much experience of International Development. “Not a great deal,” I replied.

“That’s a shame,” she said, “Because there are a couple of people I know you could help. But without sector experience, I know they’ll just assume you’ve nothing to add... Which is ironic,” she continued, “Because the fact you know so little is exactly why you’ve been so incredibly helpful for us.”

I think it was meant as a compliment.

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