We’re always so preoccupied with how dangerous the world is around us– often vastly overestimating the odds of murder, terrorost attacks and the like, but in his latest 800-ebook-page heavyweight, author Stephen Pinker (professor of psychology in the department of brain and cognitive sciences at MIT) tells us violence has been diminishing for millennia and we may be living in the most peaceful time in our species’s existence. Now, what I love about this is Pinker takes an assumption and blows it up with detailed analysis. It’s not so much the result that I envy, but his approach. He lays it out this way:
The Five Major Historical Forces for Peace:
The Leviathan (the state; reigns in internal violence)
Gentle Commerce (economic incentives for cooperation)
Feminization (empowerment of women; men are naturally more violent)
The Expanding Circle (empathy; sympathizing with ever wider classes)
The Escalator of Reason (rationality; application of empathy)
Our work as strategists requires us to take rather complicated behavioral transitions and make sense of them, and what Pinker does best is provide a strong foundation and a clear and logical step-by-step analysis. He may be right, he may be wrong. But that doesn’t matter. What I look for is how persuasive he can be. That’s the mark of a great writer and thinker.And in light of the current Global situation with Iran, Pinker’s thinking on what prompts nations to attack one-another (cost/benefit equations) has never been more relevant. It’s clear that we exist within a delicate balance of Peace and one small random act or chance taken can upset the status-quo, but for now violence is less pervasive than it has ever been — just be sure to make the right decision when the time comes (or be very, very persuasive yourself).
Who didn’t love Lets Make a Deal? Monty Hall, despite being creepy, can tell us a lot about how to make decisions and how we value information given to us. Thus, we have The Monty Hall problem: Assume a room is equipped with 3 doors. Behind 2 are goats, and behind the third is a new car. You are asked to pick a door, and will win whatever is behind it. Let’s say you pick door 1. Before the door is opened, however Monty opens one of the other two doors, revealing a goat, and asks you if you wish to change your selection to the third door (i.e., the door which neither you picked nor he opened). Of course, you think, I will stick with my gut decision. But that is wrong. Never trust your gut in this situation. You have been given more information and you should factor this in. (watch now and see how it works)
The correct answer is that you do want to switch. If you do not switch, you have the expected 1/3 chance of winning the car, since no matter whether you initially picked the correct door, Monty will show you a door with a goat. But after Monty has eliminated one of the doors for you, you obviously do not improve your chances of winning to better than 1/3 by sticking with your original choice. If you now switch doors, however, there is a 2/3 chance you will win the car (counterintuitive though it seems). So don’t always trust your gut. Sometimes you may have unwittingly been given more information…take it and run:
For strategists we are always gathering and gathering information — so at what point does this ‘research’ begin to frame our beliefs around the exact research we are conducting? At what point do we stop learning and make conclusions? How do we modify our beliefs in the light of new information? Bayes’s theorem, named after the 18th-century Presbyterian minister Thomas Bayes, addresses this task. Bayesian reasoning is supposed to lead us to reality — but not sure that is always the case? This is how it works, in the face of uncertainty, one asks 3 questions: How confident am I in the truth of my initial belief? On the assumption that my original belief is true, how confident am I that the new evidence is accurate? And whether or not my original belief is true, how confident am I that the new evidence is accurate? Well as David Hume once put it, an individual shouldn’t trust the supposed evidence for a miracle unless it would be even more miraculous if the actual miracle was untrue…got it?