What You See Is All There Is

I am currently reading a book by the Nobel prizewinner, Daniel Kahneman – a person described by Steven Pinker as “the world’s most influential living psychologist”. Entitled ‘Thinking: Fast and Slow‘, it is a weighty tome which provides a great deal of research based – and choice anecdotal – insights in the concepts of Behavioural Economics, intuition, rationality, and frankly – some of the outright crazy ways our brains interpret the world around us. Its not for the faint-of-heart – both in terms of size, but also because of some uncomfortable home-truths. Nonetheless – it is a fabulous and fascinating book.

One of the areas of discussion that I have found most interesting is the concept of ‘WYSIATI‘ or ‘What You See Is All There Is.’

WYSIATI succinctly describes the way that the human mind biases decisions and thought-processes based upon personal observations, interests and opinions. We think we are being rational, that we are unbiased in our decisions… but often we actually are not.

Intuitive thinking is quick, its easy, its painless, quite often its self gratifying (which reinforces self-belief), and it is also statistically wrong more often than it is right. (Interestingly, most people will accept this statement – so long as you are not trying to apply it them personally and their own range of experiences and interests.)

We develop our own individual ‘stories’ based on a combination of the information at hand and our own experiences; piecing the information we have into a narrative that meets our expectations.

Complex topics, with many dynamic, moving parts and many nuanced interconnections, naturally bring a large number of passionate people into the discussion. Acknowleging that these  unconcious biases exist should be considered a factor when analysing complex systems; understanding the occassionally visceral reactions that people have about certain topics. 

This leads to some interesting questions about how leaders and influencers decide upon direction and make decisions. WYSIATI in the heads of a ‘average citizen’ (massive generalisation acknowledged) is ‘mostly harmless., Leaders, on the hand, who do not seek opinion and empirical and statistical facts from all sides risk creating policy that actually could make situations worse.

A manic few days

Haven’t really had much time to do any new research this week. The weather has been pretty good so I have been otherwise engaged in building plant beds, potting out seedlings and generally de-weeding. This has taken up quite a lot of my non-work daylight hours.

The Open University have also launched the website supporting the first module of my Masters in Systems Thinking in Practice degree. The module (TU811: ‘Thinking strategically: systems tools for managing change’) starts officially in May so I have been taking the time to start some of the recommended pre-reading. Be in no doubt I will be posting some initial thoughts on that soon.

If you are interested in seeing more about the degree I am taking, details can be found here. In a amusing turn of coincidence, one of the recommended pre-courses happens to be the OpenLearn: Systems Thinking and Practice course I reviewed a few weeks ago – so I was clearly on the right track!

On my Audible I am currently listening to Thinking: Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, which tackles the notion of the way the mind competes with itself when we make choices – the fast, intuitive, ‘snap-judgement’ emotional half, and the slower, more deliberate, logical ‘Mr Spock’ half. It is quite profound so far – and I am only a short way through. It is one of those weighty tomes that causes you stare thoughtfully out of train windows mulling over how obvious it all is, but how we never really notice it until someone points it out.  It will be a while before I finish this one though – its a very large book!

An oasis of calm in a sea of noise

Gardening runs in my family.  

My mother and sister both grow all variety of edibles, my grandmother is a plantswoman of whose skill I can only hope to emulate and going further back, my family has grown orchards and tended farmland; getting back to the earth is something that runs pretty deep.

Being a ex-designer (and a sucker for creating order in a chaotic world), I prefer architectural gardening; unusual plants, hard landscaping, distinctive shapes and smells.

Recent research by the King’s Fund for UK Department of Culture, Media and Health (2015) indicate that after the age of 25, gardening activity sharply rises to more than 40% for 25-44 year olds, over 60% in the 45-64 age bracket and over 70% for the over 65s. I wonder if there is a any correlation that could be drawn between between age, career progression / complexity and the need to get out into green space – or whether its just people eventually realising that most of the programmes on television are pretty rubbish during the day…

Gardens and gardening are my ‘mental clearance spaces’; the places I gravitate towards when I have been posed a particularly thorny technical problem, or I have multiple work demands on my time that are beginning to push me towards the edge of what I can handle in one go. Being in, walking through, or being actively engaged in creating or maintaining gardens quiets the mind, allows me to relax, and gives me time to sift through and make sense of what is actually going on. It is one of my more reliable methods of accessing my ‘systems thinking’ brain; tuning out all the useless information, the endless meetings and the extraneous ‘noise’ of a issue or problem and chasing down the roots of the issue.

Gardens have no judgement, no hurried thinking, no changing demands bar what you put on yourself.. Freud said:

‘ Flowers are restful to look at. They have neither emotions nor conflict,’

– something that I think all of us could probably benefit from in today’s modern, connected and hyper-politicized world.

And on that note I am going to go and attack a particularly pernicious weed that has decided to inveigle its way into my flower bed.