Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Optimism Bias

I listened to an interview on PBS the other day of a scientist who has researched the phenomenon of "optimism bias". It turns out that humans tend to be optimistic and to imagine positive outcomes even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. That explains the invasion of Iraq. It also explains the many boneheaded business decisions that I have seen made over the years. I'm trained as a corporate lawyer to point out the possible downside to every "exciting new opportunity" and where appropriate to dampen the unwarranted enthusiasm of the business folks. I try not to get too cozy with the business team lest I catch the infection of optimism and overlook the potential problems that I'm paid to bring up. This is not usually difficult for me since most of the busness folks dislike me and will get me involved only when they are required to under operating procedures. They think I'm a downer with my pesky reasoning.

Optimism bias puts bread on my table. Long live optimism bias.

I'm not immune to it, of course. I imagine that my future will be happy and bright even though there are an infinite number of scenarios, mostly beyond my control, where my future is bleak and miserable or brief. How would I drag myself out of bed every day if I didn't imagine that I'd survive? Why would I bother with those Lotto tickets if I didn't see myself winning? Nobody would ever do anything if they imagined the worst all the time.

No comments: