Writing to learn

Richard Feynman (read Surely You're Joking, Mr Feynman!) had a brilliant way of learning something new. When he wanted to learn something new, he'd try explain it in simple language, language that a toddler could understand. If he got stuck somewhere, and couldn't explain it simply he'd go back and learn more until he could.

Given that he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1965, I assume it works. Given that he had time to learn how to pick locks and play the bongo drums, I'd assume it works well.

In honour of Mr Feynman, and for my own selfish benefit, I want to use Feynman's technique to learn more about my own cognitive biases by writing about them, and hopefully overcome them. 

My intention is to improve my own thinking and decision-making. By taking what I learn when I read and trying to communicate it to you in simple language, ideally with actionable insights that you can apply to your daily life. I think once you get your daily life under control you can then start solving the big, difficult, important problems that most people never get to (because they haven't built out systems to deal with the minutiae).

It's easy to find a list of cognitive biases, just look to Wikipedia. It's a little harder to understand the theory, but again, still pretty easy. What's hard is learning how to practice seeing your biases. I haven't figured that part out yet either...

I think writing about it will help.

What I currently believe is you need to internalise biases not know them by name, as Josh Waitzkin says, you need to study numbers to leave numbers. Ideally, you have a community of people who are willing to learn with you, I hope this blog becomes that community.

I also believe that taking the time to improve your decision-making will pay dividends, it's a valuable past time, one that's not taught in schools. It's not even taught in a systematic way, there are a lucky few who pick it up along the way, pulling together information from here and there. Or they learn it indirectly through another discipline, like science or engineering, where they teach to say "I was wrong" and then work out why your initial hypothesis didn't work.

But you don't need to be working in a lab to benefit from the scientific method. Being able to say you were wrong is valuable, no one wants to do it. But If you can't say "I was wrong" then figure out where to go from there, what's the point reading more books? Confirmation bias is killing the new information anyway. Learning about our biases can help us stop doing that.

Decision-making is hard to learn, but it's the bedrock of our economy, and it's fascinating. It just takes looking at the same thing from multiple angles until it clicks. That's what I'm trying to do.

In the end one thing matters, that it improves our lives. Who knows, I could be wrong, maybe I'll never overcome my biases and maybe the best you can hope for is knowing each bias by name. If I am wrong, I hope I'll be able to say "I was wrong" and figure out what to write about from there.