Reading Notes & Thoughts from…

“Elon Musk Thinks Every Child Should Learn about these 50 Cognitive Biases” 

By Jessica Stillman , Inc Magazine

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“Whatever you think of Elon Musk’s many Twitter scandals, sometimes odd public utterances, and past tax bills, one thing is for sure. The guy is clearly able to achieve the near impossible when it comes to engineering and innovation.

It’s a skill he himself attributes to clear thinking. While others look around and see what other people are trying, or assume they can move the status quo only so much, Musk is a firm believer in what he calls “first principles thinking,” or focusing solely on the basic truths and constraints of whatever field he’s working in, and building up from there.

Thinking like this might come relatively easily to a mind like Musk’s, but according to an absolute avalanche of psychological research, the rest of us often struggle to be as clear-headed. We get emotional, fear others’ judgment, or simply screw up our mental math thanks to the brain’s many inherent bugs and biases. Could we all get a little more Musk-like in our thinking if we learned about the quirks that often trip us up as kids?

Musk appears to think so. He recently took to Twitter to declare that cognitive biases “should be taught to all at a young age.” His post included a (not super easy to read) graphic laying out 50 common biases, thinking errors, and irrational human tendencies that kids should be alerted to, which I’ve laid out in list from below.

Do you agree that we’d all be a little better prepared for life if we learned them all in school? “

Bandwagon Effect. Everyone likes to jump on a trendy bandwagon.  As I have written about before, this Effect is illustrated by the concept of Social Proof from Cialdini’s foundational book “Influence.”

With Social Proof, People will do things that they see other people are doing. This is why in advertisements, certain social networks show you who of your friends like a page, or are going to an event. For example, in one experiment, one or more paid actors would look up into the sky; bystanders would then copy them, and look up to find out what was so interesting. At one point this experiment aborted, as so many people were looking up that they stopped traffic.

Groupthink. Also just what it sounds like. Going along with the group to avoid conflict. The downfall of many a large organization.   Goes with In-Group Favoritism above.   Evolutionarily group think kept us from being banished from our tribes.

Halo Effect. Assuming a person has other positive traits because you observed they have one. Just because someone is confident or beautiful doesn’t mean they are also smart or kind, for example.  We see this a lot in the corp world where, often, might makes right.  If someone makes more money, they are seen as “better” or “more right.” Even if the way the person made money has nothing to do with the topic at hand.  Also, corp hierarchies shouldn’t be a ranking of knowledge on all topics.