Category: Life or something like it

An Indian Survivorship Bias Example

Many of you must have seen that drawing of a World War II plane with red dots on it.

It explains Survivorship bias, a bias that statistician Abraham Wald figured out.

Pic: source

Simply put, survivor bias is our tendency to view a situation or pattern as a comprehensive representative sample, often without considering what might be missing from that picture.

For instance, the WWII plane with red dots was a study Wald and his team carried out to determine which parts of returning Allied jets were hit the most by enemy gunfire, so as to reinforce those parts and make them stronger.

It was then that Wald realized that those parts were actually stronger, as all those jets had made it back to base safely. So instead, they focused on reinforcing the other parts, since clearly jets hit on other weaker sections never survived to tell their side of the story.

In India, there has been a belief among many of the older folk that children or people with big/long ears live a longer life, compared to those with smaller ears.

Interestingly, while most of our body shrinks with age, our nose, earlobes and ear muscles keep growing. Which means our elders had the concept backwards.

It was not that those born with bigger ears lived longer. But rather that those who lived longer, had ears that simply had a longer time to keep growing, and are therefore, relatively bigger in size.

#behaviour #behavior #bias #behaviouralscience #behavioralscience

 

How About a Mass Behavioural Improvement before India’s 100th Independence Day

 


The beautiful tri-colour waving at Connaught Place, Central Park, Delhi.

It’s 75 years since India got Independence!
A proud milestone for all of us Indians. Also one to reflect on and carefully choose the path forward.

I happened to read a 75th Independence Day post on Instagram a short while ago, that took a crude jab at the Brits.
What I found amusing is I believe it captures a common trait among many of us Indians.

This is obviously not a political post. It is a behavioural one though.

It has been 75 years!
Our media never misses an opportunity to find Indian connections to the Royal family..
There’s a massive Indian population living in the UK..
We dream of holidaying in the UK..
We dream of owning cars and motorbikes from the UK region..

..but still have this unaddressed anger of sorts. I mean come on, it has been 75 years ffs!

Thing is, I have experienced this type of misplaced emotion myself as well.
As a 7-8 year old, one of the early deaths of a loved one was that of my grandfather. He had already suffered a stroke, and subsequently died of a heart attack.

I remember struggling to come to terms with it, and told a cousin that I wish a person had caused it, so that perhaps I could find a rational channel for my anger and more importantly my sadness.

So I wonder, is it something broken in our education system, or in how we bring up our children, not discussing or not knowing how to discuss tough or uncomfortable topics, that causes us to grow up to become anger-filled, cynical adults who, as Steve Buscemi (Garland Greene in Con Air) describes someone saying,
“He’s a font of misplaced rage.
Name your cliche. Mother held him too much, or not enough.
Last picked at kick ball, late-night sneaky uncle. Whatever.
Now he’s so angry, moments of levity actually cause him pain.”

And this is not just the case with India. Other countries around the world, some in Europe and South America too, display a similar general trend of latent anger or cynicism amongst its people.

Better understanding of this behavioural pattern might help us address it, so we can reach our true potential, as individuals, and as a country. Let us improve multi-fold by our 100th Independence Day.

 

 

 

 

The Hostile World for Women


Pic: source
 
The men among you might be able to relate to this.
 
Think of the last time you attended a conference or had to commute for a duration of over 30 minutes. And rather than drive or take a bus or train, you Uber or Ola it there and back.
 
How often might you have dozed off in the cab?
 
I have on plenty of occasions.
 
Doing so is probably not too safe even for us men. But you can relate to this scenario. Unless you are on a call or browsing, or chatting with the driver; there’s a good chance you’ve been generally sleepy. Even more so if it is sunny or gloomy outside, making it a struggle to keep awake in the cab.
 
We do wake up refreshed though; ready for whatever tasks await us.
 
Now, imagine those same instances as a woman.
One would imagine it is far more unsafe for her. Which means she needs to resist that overwhelming nap in the cab that we men would struggle to resist.
 
Imagine an hour or more of commuting. Imagine needing to stay awake, only because you are a woman. Only because the world remains disproportionately more unsafe for you.
 
During engineering, I used to have a little over an hour of commuting each, to and from college. A 5-minute local bus ride for about 2 kilometers, and then an hour on an express bus flying for a good part on a national highway.
 
One afternoon, when getting back from college, I remember being sleepier than usual. So I dozed off for a while. After getting off at my stop, and getting into the local bus, I sat on an aisle seat on the left. Next to me on the window seat was an elderly man.
 
Still drowsy, I nodded off, and my head unintentionally bobbed off this old man’s shoulder. Awoken by the jolt, without looking up, I apologized to this person. Still struggling to stay awake, I nodded off again.
 
And again, along the twisty roads, my head hit his shoulder. Again, with eyes half open, I apologized, before opening my eyes wide open to try and stay awake. But before I knew it, I had drifted off, only to wake up after the next jolt between head and shoulder. 😛
 
I wondered how come this old man was so tolerant of this invasion of his space. As I turned to apologize, I realized he was fast asleep too, head bobbing slightly with the movement of the bus.
 
It is a different situation if a a woman is sitting beside another woman in public transport. But otherwise, this lowering of one’s guard and allowing oneself a few zzz’s in the face of exhaustion is an improbable scenario for most women. She would not feel safe to allow herself to catch a few zzz’s. Even on the most scorching afternoons on a bus filled with strangers she is instinctively programmed to be alert about.
 
In a generally hostile world, imagine the toll this resisting of sleep, or the need to be on alert all the time, puts on the average woman’s attentional space.
 
Now imagine how making the world safer, could do wonders to the attentional space of millions of women.
 
An attempt to create a safer world has many dimensions to it.
From educating us men from childhood, to creating safe environments and neighbourhoods. And creating less-taxing processes and experiences.
 
Indian queues have been something of an amusement for decades. How we generally struggle to create straight lines, but would rather flock over a counter. That experience for most of us men, though mildly stressful, is only one of ensuring no one cuts the queue before you.
 
For a woman, it is a far more horrifying experience. It often is about having strange men far too close in her personal space. She is not just concerned about losing a few spots in queue. Her mind is most likely in a state of high alert. Scared she might be pushed off balance, or touched, or pick-pocketed. Not a pleasant state for anyone to be in.
 
A lot of us have either mentioned or found amusing, how women go to the loo in pairs or groups. There are those of us who only need to slide down a zipper and go. We can never fully understand the challenge a poorly lit toilet or approach presents to a woman. Nor the lack of a hook for a purse, an empty toilet paper roll, or a working latch on the door presents to a woman.
Pic: source
 
Years ago, as a male teen growing up in India, I have done my share of urinating in public. Not exactly in public, but say into a field on the side of a highway and such. Not proud of it. In fact over the years, I’ve been increasingly ashamed of it.

Many years ago as a student, I was on a bus traveling between two states. The bus stopped in a small town, and many of us passengers stepped out to relive ourselves. On one edge of the bus stand, beyond an open gate, was a swamp.

Since there were far more people than toilets, and given the short duration of the stop, the teenage me headed toward the swamp. A few elders standing along the path to the swamp figured the obvious reason I was headed there. In an animated manner, they seemed to caution me using a word in the language of the state. They kept repeating it. I was familiar with the word. In my limited vocabulary, it meant swamp or small water body or something. I smiled and waved them a friendly ‘don’t worry about it’ and walked past, stood on the edge of the swamp and got to it.

During the rest of the journey, the word of caution from those villagers kept playing in my head. That’s when realization hit that there also exists an almost identical, phonetically slightly different word in the same language. One that translated to water snake! So much for risky relieving business.

But unlike that incident, even the most normal seeming public toilets (including the ones at malls) can seem equally daunting for women. From lights not working, to male staff being assigned to clean them, it is no less scary than the risk of those water snakes.

Imagine the world of a difference between someone able to relieve oneself when necessary; to someone needing to hold it in till she gets to a more accommodating place.
 
Now imagine how making the world safer and being considerate and thoughtful, could do wonders to the lives of millions of women.
 
Educate. Be considerate. Design safer and more thoughtful spaces and processes.
Pic: source
 
#women #safety #AttentionalSpace #design #DesignThoughtfully #processes

Plastic Diet – Trying to Predict Big Pharma’s Next Big Thing

plastic-pollution-kills-another-whale-1

Image: source

Since plastic is pretty much an inescapable part of our diets now, and since we humans are inclined to prefer selling/buying a solution rather than inconveniencing ourselves with rollbacks or preventive efforts, my prediction for big pharma is that their next big offering will be pills (or some other form) of supplements to help digest that plastic.

Bon Appétit

An old, related post: Choosing a business opportunity to avoid change.

All We Need is Somebody to Lean On

Random woman (not the one from the story). Pic: source

Sometime before lockdown, I was in another city, attending a wedding. The reception was in this beautiful open ground. I’m no fan of wedding ceremonies, so once I was done admiring the place, I was a little bored. After some time at the bar, I caught up with a few people, and was back to getting a bit bored. That’s when I noticed one elegantly dressed woman who seemed to have dropped one of her earrings in the grass. Three or four of her family members spent a minute or two trying to spot the earring in the grass in the dark, before giving up.

With absolutely nothing better to do, I thought this might make for a nice social experiment, and jumped right in. I walked up to them, offered to help, asking to see the other earring so I knew what I’d be looking for. I switched on my phone light, and started searching. Glancing upward, I noticed 2 of that family joined in the search again. Another 20 seconds or so, and all of them were back to searching for the earring too. About 5-10 minutes later, we had covered a reasonable area around where she thought she had dropped it, but with no luck. I could hear her tell one of her family members something about when she got them or who gifted them to her, or something to that effect. She clearly had some sentimental value for the earrings. However, she also seemed practical enough to know when to stop searching for it in the dark, at a wedding reception.

But I had nothing better to do, and wanted to see what happens when a stranger is willing to look for something that’s lost, when its owner (and family) have long given up. So I continued looking. Two or three times, the family told me to let it be, and stopped looking for it themselves. But the moment I’d say let me just look for another minute or so, they’d join back in.
Probably about 15 minutes in, one of them found the earring. They were all thrilled. The woman thanked me, and I was back to getting bored.

But I had seen something interesting as a result of that little social experiment.
Many a times in a work or social setting, a group tends to quit something soon after the first person gives up. It’s almost like everyone is waiting for someone to call quits, so they can (without suffering the shame of being the first to).
And yet, in some situations, it is possible to reverse that effect, to get the group back in the game after it has quit.

Of course, I’d doubt it would work multiple times in a similar setting. So any corporate bosses or parents getting smart ideas for your team or kids: don’t!

About the cheesy sounding title for the post, I happened to be listening to the CRNKN remix of Lean On (below) when editing the post. 😛

Even Flow

Image: source

In the past few months, I happened to come across some books and a lot of articles around habits.
What at least some of us who struggle to build a good habit (or get rid of a bad one) assume, is that habits are like finding a nice, quiet spot somewhere (at a beach, in the bus, or at the park). That once it’s done, it’s done.

What happens sometimes though, is that once you’ve found that spot, it suddenly gets noisy or crowded. Could be a group of people speaking loudly. Or someone on the phone, who forgets it is the phone’s job to transfer their voice to the person at the other end of the call, and instead they take it upon themselves to. Sometimes you can ask people to be quiet or more away, sometimes you can’t. So then you need to consider finding another ‘nice, quiet’ spot. And if you do, that spot might present its own set of distractions. So what started as a clear, single objective of finding a nice quiet spot, turns into a journey of staying in a nice quiet spot. I’d assume that’s how attempting to create habits is.

And I recently read the book ‘Flow’, where the author talks of something similar in the pursuit of flow – that it is not a destination that one arrives at, but rather a state that one must put effort into maintaining, despite internal distractions and worries, and despite changing and uncontrollable external environments.

About regular corrections or adjustments needed to stay on course. Like that saying, “Be like a duck. Calm on the surface, but always paddling like the dickens underneath.” Those of us who manage to roll with the punches, succeed with our habit or attaining flow. And those of us who don’t, are still assuming it is a destination rather than a journey.
[Random musings]

The ‘Sample Size of One’ Concept Simplified

Given my growing interest in behavioural science and behavioural economics, when there was quite some news about the replication crisis in the field, it got me wondering if there might be a better way to undertake studies so that they remain relevant, if not replicable.

The thought was triggered by a random interaction in the market [read here], and I shared more thoughts towards finding a solution in a subsequent post [read here].

I also shared the two posts with three respected behavioural scientists+economists, who felt my concept might work. And given that I’m not formally from their field, they didn’t have any professional obligation to suffer a fool. So their nods came as a reassurance that I might be headed in a positive direction.

It was still challenging conveying the problem and my solution concept to people. So I started working on a simpler way to do that, and here it is. Let me know if you still have questions or doubts.

 

Counterintuitiveness – Psyched vs Calm


Pic: source

Counterintuitive Series: Psyched vs Calm

Counterintuitiveness makes life more interesting. It also briefly reveals gaps or lags in our understanding or mindsets.

From time to time, life demands that we get charged for something. Could be the commencement of a big project, a project with a tight deadline, a school or college assignment due the next morning, a job interview, and so on. And we feel the need to get psyched about it. Get in the zone, get charged up, and whatever other phrases there are for it.

And there seem to ways to do it to. The most common of course, being chugging down an energy drink or copious amounts of coffee.

The only problem with many of these methods, is there is a guaranteed crash after the initial ‘charge’. And sometimes, that can be worse than not having consumed or performed whatever ‘charge-up’ action. Like staying up all night working on the assignment and falling asleep in the morning and ending missing class itself. Or worse.

Calming down seems to have more than the same benefits that ‘charging up’ options offer, but without the subsequent crash.

But that’s the tough bit at least I often grapple with. The calming down. Most people suggest meditation, though that is sometimes easier said than done.

A few things that work for me, include standing against a wall or cupboard for a minute. Or lying down in a reclined position with arms stretched out and closing eyes for a minute or two.

And of course, brain dumps really work. Writing down each and every thought and to-do that comes to mind.

Before complex or creative projects, even a short nap helps clear the head and even make sense of some of the complexity.

Compared to the psych-you-up options, calmer ways to get in the zone often provide similar (or better) results, are more efficient, make you expend less energy, and are effective longer.

Leaving you with my favourite counterintuitive trivia question for some years now:

Q: Fighter jets normally take-off off aircraft carriers at a speed of around 270 km/hr.
What might be the approximate speed at which they approach the aircraft carrier to land?+

A: Most of us would imagine they would approach to land on an aircraft carrier at a much lower speed, given the short runway on the carrier. However, they approach at take-off speeds (~270 km/hr) or higher, because if they miss all of usually four arresting cables on the carrier that help it stop, they would need to take-off before they reach the end.

For more posts on ‘counterintuitiveness‘.

And remember, as US Marines probably say..

‘Slow is smooth, smooth is fast.’

+ except aircraft like the Harrier, Osprey, some F-35s and such of course.

Counterintuitiveness – Babies Resisting Sleep

Counterintuitive Series: Babies resisting sleep

Counterintuitiveness makes life more interesting. It also briefly reveals gaps or lags in our understanding or mindsets.

This particular one is a hypothesis and not an example (yet at least), but let me have your views or experiences on it.

Pic: source

A lot of parents of young kids nowadays, both friends and family, grumble about the time it takes to put their kid to sleep at a reasonable hour. And this seems to be a common occurrence across the world. One could perhaps attribute it to two factors. First, for many of us, our lifestyle and work-life balance has us sleeping much later than our parents’ generation did. And secondly, each new generation seems smarter and generally more curious than the previous. And the average kid nowadays has so much more information around to soak up.

However, it did get me wondering about the practice of putting kids to sleep. Nowadays, parents are often very gentle when patting the backs or bottoms of their kids to sleep. And kids really fight sleep. Leading to a tug-of-war between the two, often leaving both a bit grumpy.

Back in the day, parents or grandparents seemed to pat kids slightly less gently, something I thought was odd at the time. You’d wonder if they were trying to put the kid to sleep, or wake it up.

But it now makes me wonder if the overly gentle pat causes kids to resist sleep even more.
Stay with me on this thought for a moment.

Kids naturally tend to be a little rebellious when something is in conflict with their natural interest.
The gentle pat comes across as a request to sleep, something they don’t want to do, even if tired. So they resist, sometimes taking a really long time to fall asleep, to the displeasure of the parent.

Pic: source

The older generation’s firmer pats seemed counterintuitive. While intending to put the kid to sleep, they almost partially woke the drowsy kid. And therefore, seemed to conflict less with, or almost align with, the kid’s intention to stay awake.
Would this let the kid not resist sleep as much, and sleep faster?
Could it be that in our natural tendency to be gentler, we have added to the problem?
I don’t know. But hey, food for thought.

Click here for more posts on ‘counterintuitiveness‘.

Counterintuitiveness – Unhurried Conversations

image: source

Counterintuitiveness – Unhurried conversations

Counterintuitiveness makes life more interesting. It also briefly reveals gaps or lags in our understanding or mindsets.

Some weeks ago, I chanced upon a virtual session titled “Unhurried Conversations about Rule-breaking”, hosted by Johnnie Moore and Tim Pilbrow.
Often, virtual sessions are mostly unidirectional. And interactions either lack many questions, or have a subtle tug-of-war, with participants trying to get their message across. This was far from both.

The session started with an overview by the hosts, followed by participants heading to breakout rooms, equipped with some simple rules:
When someone is speaking, avoid interrupting.
When speaking, you can take your sweet time. And once done, hold up an object to convey the same, so someone else can then speak.

The lack of pressure to squeeze one’s point across, or blurt it out so as not to take up much time, was refreshing.

It felt like there was more than sufficient time for everyone to share multiple views, stories and opinions, which in themselves were extremely insightful. And the best bit, there was the respect, both when everyone spoke, and when everyone listened.
And everyone’s understanding of the topic seemed to evolve nicely in this supportive environment.

In all, very different from both high-pressure group discussion type environments, and the no-questions kind we are used to.

With a fixed timeline, interactions and meetings with these rules could perhaps be far more effective. Thanks to Johnnie and Tim!

Click here for more posts on ‘counterintuitiveness‘.

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