Don't keep yourself in the dark - Michelle Gibbings

In the era of fake news and a social media environment where image appears to be everything it is more important than ever to be curious and to look beyond the surface.

It’s often never what it seems.

In recent times, I’ve been fascinated to watch the Theranos scandal unfold.

Theranos is the failed biomedical start up, which was founded by Elizabeth Holmes. At one point she was the world’s youngest, self-made, billionaire with her company valued at $9 billion. Unfortunately, it all turned out to be based on a so-called invention – a miniaturised blood analyser – that didn’t work.

As this CBS new report highlights she called her invention the iPod of health care and it made her a celebrity – gracing magazine covers and being praised by politicians and the media. She also fooled some of the world’s biggest investors, who backed her.

It’s easy to scratch your head in disbelief and wonder how that is even possible. How does someone have the audacity to try and pull it off, and how is it that people could be so easily fooled?

The answer to the first question, is an article for another day.  On the latter question, it’s easy to fall in love with an idea or a concept, and to be persuaded by someone with charisma and charm that their ideas are worth listening to.

But it is more than that. We are tribal creatures and so we like to follow the pack. As the field of behavioural economics shows we are not rational when it comes to financial decisions, and we don’t like the thought of missing out.

At a time when the world is increasingly complex, it becomes more important than ever to dig beyond the hype to find out what was really going on. You need to seek information that covers both ends of the debate – so that you are fully informed – and can then make up your own mind.

This does mean there are occasions when you need to listen to ideas that you don’t agree with. When you do this, get curious. Ask yourself – why do they think like that? Would I think like that if I were in their shoes? This will help to broaden your perspective and challenge your assumptions.

As I’ve said before, we need to be willing to challenge and call out that the Emperor has no clothes.

It’s also another reminder that the decisions we make are influenced by a whole range of factors, including:

  • How busy we are
  • Whether we are tired, run down or emotional
  • How emotionally invested we are in the decision and its outcomes
  • How much time we have, and the level of urgency attached to the decision

The challenge is we don’t see our limitations, and we don’t easily recognise the bias that influences how we make decisions.

We think we are rational and objective. We’re not. We make decisions on hunches, feelings, assumptions and gut reactions; all of which are based on our past experiences.

Research shows that our brain discards information that doesn’t fit with its world view. It takes short cuts when it makes decisions, and it can be easily influenced.

Daniel Kahneman in his brilliant book “Thinking Fast and Slow” shared his years of research into this field. He explains how the automatic and instinctual part of brain can lead us to cognitive bias, and that we can place too much confidence in our own judgement.

Consequently, it is easy to be blind to the obvious and to not see what we should see.

Have you ever woken up and thought: ‘My goal today is to make a really bad decision‘? That’s unlikely.

And yet, many of us do make poor decisions, and repeatedly poor decisions because we don’t pay enough attention to how and when we are making decisions.

The first step is being aware that as humans we are:

  • Imperfect decision makers
  • Emotional
  • Influenced by the context
  • Often short-sighted and focused on the short-term, and
  • Cognitively lazy

And with that awareness, a realisation that if you want to make better decisions it starts with you digging further into what is happening around.

As Tony Robbins said: “It is in your moments of decision that your destiny is shaped“.