Shane Parrish and Todd Simkin on cognitive shortcuts, belonging, and tribalism
They talked about the need for cognitive shortcuts in everyday decision making. At the same time, they also pointed out that, despite beeing needed, shortcuts carry their own risks (stemming from the social nature of human beings):
Parrish: If you make a personal rule in a way that’s like, “I’m not the person that you eat dessert, so I’m not going to eat dessert.” Well, now, I don’t have to think about it. I just don’t eat dessert. So it can serve you.
But it can also prevent you from accurately weighing new information or contemplating in [new information in] this case. [It’s like we’re] inherently lazy. And we just want if we’re part of a tribe. I don’t have to digest every little new piece of information, I can sort of just go with the flow and fit in. And plus we want to fit in, we want to be a social member of something larger than ourselves.
Is that because we see our identity as the tribe? And then anything that goes against that, isn’t that challenging our sense of self?
Simkin: It’s so much easier if you have a rule than if you tried to have a principle. [A rule like] “I don’t eat dessert” is so much easier than, each time that you have the opportunity to have dessert, to say, “Well, I don’t eat a lot of dessert, is this one of the times that I’m better making a change there?”
I get up and do some type of exercise every morning. And I find it easy to exercise seven days a week, [but] I found it really hard to exercise five days a week. The reason was every morning the alarm goes off at 5am, it’s really easy to not have your feet hit the ground and get going. It’s really easy to say, “Well, I need to take two days off anyway, this can be one of the days that I take off.”
So on the “I don’t eat dessert rule”, I think that’s a great way to pre-decide. [Laziness] has a lot of value laid in it. [It] lightens your cognitive load. I don’t have to stop and think about everything if I’ve already spent the time thinking about it. And it’s led to this conclusion that I’ve reached, which is this rule that I can follow. So I love being able to do that.
But you’re not part of a group of non-dessert eaters, right? This isn’t part of a a broader identity that you’re now wrapped up in. If you decide to change that rule, and you have dessert, you don’t have other people calling you a “dessert denier name only [DDNO],” right? You’re a “DDNO” now. Who cares, right? “Okay, so she used to eat dessert (or used to deny dessert), and now he’s having an ice cream sundae?” Good for her. Maybe it’s her birthday, whatever it is, this is a decision that’s totally fine with her.
And you don’t have to worry that you have now also contradicted all of the other tenets held by the people in the non-desert eating group. If it’s something that is more tribal, where we are the type of people that do this and don’t do that, then a violation of one part of that removes you from this group that you are in.
- It is impossible to think for yourself, and from first principles, every time. Of course we need some rules
- We should avoid the mistake of wrapping our identities up into the “rules” of some tribe
In the same conversation, Parrish and Simkin talked about a possible way out of some cognitive biases: Todd Simkin on overcoming cognitive biases by communicating well with the right kind of group. This also reminds of the partnership between Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger. It seems to me that one of the reasons why Buffett values so much having Munger as his partner is that Munger, being a smart independent thinker, is able to challenge Buffett’s thinking. They sharpen each other. And, through this process, make themselves less prone to errors.