You’re Wrong and Can Never Be Convinced Otherwise

Are you a rational, logical person? When you are given the data about a situation, do you change your mind? I would be willing to bet that you like to think about yourself in that light. I know that I do.

However, I know that I still hold beliefs in spite of some data. If you give me some data about a situation, I’m not very likely to believe it. I might accept it, I might even agree with it, but I won’t likely change my thought process that you, as the presenter of that data, think I should be changing. Why is that?

While sitting around, drinking some tea, and eating some lovely, lovely bread with Jeffrey Fredrick, we had covered topics ranging from ease at work, the results of the Strengths Finder test, beliefs that people hold, estimation and tracking in software development, and the problems people have understanding estimates, when Jeff blurted out (paraphrasing), “I’d love to put together something about naive pitfalls. For instance in selling, a naive way of going about it is believing that people want to hear about your product. They don’t, they want to hear how you’ll solve their problem.”

This brought out a whole list of naive fallacies that we’ve both found that people hold.

Fallacy 1: Scheduling

Belief: The way to get more done is to schedule more stuff.

Reality: The way to get more done is to work on a single thing until it is finished.

Fallacy 2: Persuasion

Belief: The way to persuade people is to give them data.

Reality: The way to persuade people is to agree that they have a certain understanding of something, and then provide a story that leads from their understanding to your understanding.

Fallacy 3: Feedback

Belief: Feedback is something that is given to someone.

Reality: Feedback is something that the person has to seek out.

Fallacy 4: Experience

Belief: The longer you do your job the better you get at it.

Reality: The more you deliberately practice your job, the better you get at your job.

The commonality that I see in all of these is the belief that the data alone will change what belief a person holds. In all cases the person who holds the belief needs to be the one taking themselves down a path that leads them from one belief about the world to another belief.

Take the fallacy of experience as an example. Purely gathering experience is not what produces change. Instead, the change occurs when the person experiencing the situation reflects on what has been occurring, inspects their own belief structures, and finds ways to change themselves to produce different outcomes. The data pointed to the existence something around them, but the person had to find a path to changing their surroundings.

It may be true that I can’t convince you that you are wrong (oh, the irony of linking to an article about confirmation bias here). I can, however, provide you with a story that will maybe lead you down the path of understanding why I think you are wrong.

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2 Responses to You’re Wrong and Can Never Be Convinced Otherwise

  1. michaelrwilliamson says:

    Sadly, humans have a long history of interpreting data extremely poorly.

    In some cases, evidence contrary to our beliefs can lead to even stronger belief. For instance, many cults have predicted the end of the world, and state that joining the cult is the only way to salvation. The world has a tendency to not end, so the beliefs of these cults are invariably proven false. Yet after such damning proof, the cultists tend to become ever more committed, and seek to convert more people to their beliefs. Why? After their beliefs have been shattered by reality, they seek to confirm them by social proof. The greater the number of other people that share their beliefs, the truer they become in the minds of the cultists.

    As another example, consider a courtroom where a piece of evidence is given, which the judge then rules as inadmissible. In so doing, the judge actually makes it more likely that the jurors will use the evidence in their deliberations. Why? When we’re told that we shouldn’t use something, we tend to perceive it as more valuable.

    (Examples stolen from the excellent book “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion”, although the mistakes I’ve undoubtedly introduced into the explanations are all mine.)

  2. davecl says:

    Given the amount of kicking we, as a department and a college, get on feedback to students, I think we should probably tattoo Fallacy 3 on their foreheads when they’re freshers!

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