Opportunity’s assassin.

Opportunity is fleeting.
Favorable circumstances arise and fade away.
Like the evanescence of a rainbow in the sky.
But unlike beauty, the longer we contemplate an opportunity.
The more likely we’ll be to reject it.
Even if we are correct in our initial assessment.
Because the passage of time darkens our perception.
A team of NYU neuroscientists demonstrated this in a recent study.
Participants were asked to decide on the direction of moving dots on a display.
They signalled their choice of direction and their confidence level with eye movements.
As the experiment went on, the researchers made the choice of direction more or less challenging.
By manipulating the evidence.
And what they found was no surprise.
More evidence increased the participants’ confidence level.
And that confidence level correlated highly with decision time.
The less time it took to make a decision, the more confident they felt.
In a second experiment the researchers manipulated the movement of the dots.
Creating brief periods with no real evidence of their direction.
As expected, the time it took for participants to make a decision increased.
But the accuracy remained the same.
What didn’t remain the same was the participants’ level of confidence.
It went down.
Decisions which took longer to make were perceived by the participants as less confident ones.
Even though they were just as accurate.
We crave certainty in our decision-making.
We want to feel confident in our choices.
And increased decision time diminishes that feeling.
Victor Kiam, the guy who “liked the shaver so much, he bought the company,” was absolutely right.
“Procrastination is opportunity’s assassin.”
It chips away at belief and kills our confidence.
So don’t let it happen to you.
When you encounter an opportunity that feels right, take it!
It may give rise to a personal rainbow.

Information and belief.

“Information and belief” is legal language used to protect someone from perjury.
It basically says, “I don’t have firsthand information.
But from what I’ve been told, I believe it.”
That seems to define most of our beliefs.
We’ve been “lead to believe” them.
Firsthand information about the world is quite rare.
Most of our knowledge comes from others.
Not from direct observation and experience.
When I was in art school, I was lead to believe.
That Renaissance artists invented perspective.
The technique of representing reality on a two-dimensional surface.
In a way that looks true to life.
But now I’m not so sure.
Because I’ve been introduced to new information.
Prehistoric art in France’s Niaux Caves.
Intentionally and realistically rendered paintings of animal portraiture.
13,000-year-old masterpieces that art critic Jerry Saltz said rival the best works at the Louvre.
So now what?
Do I stick with my original belief?
Secondhand knowledge that most people still believe.
Or do I change my mind?
Goethe wrote, “Doubt grows with knowledge.”
A tenet to seriously ponder during today’s deluge of data.
We live in an age of information oppression.
And the more information, the less belief.

Do you see the foxes?

Don’t you just love funny, charming and enthusiastic people?
Of course you do.
That’s why speakers, consultants, and politicians hone those skills.
So you’ll feel good about them and buy into their agendas.
That’s how our brains are wired.
Our impulsive, feeling mind leads us.
It directs our attention, and guides our reflections and decisions.
Especially when we’re overloaded and under stress.
But that wiring can lead us astray.
And in an age of endless posturing, it’s wise to be aware of that propensity.
To observe our own thoughts and learn to spot the foxes.
In the 1970s, “Dr. Myron L. Fox” gave a brilliant talk on mathematical game theory.
To a classroom of educators, graduate students, MDs and PhDs.
The astute audience was quite engaged with his lecture.
In fact, they rated the “Doctor’s” performance quite highly.
They even believed they learned new material.
But “Dr. Fox” was literally a fox.
A cunning actor skilled at getting an audience to believe.
His “lecture” was nothing more than an experiment, a meaningless show.
Filled with “an excessive use of double talk, neologisms, non sequiturs, and contradictory statements.”
But he spouted his nonsense with authority.
And he did so in a charming and seductive manner.
So much so that no one noticed that he didn’t really say a damn thing.
I’ve been doing a lot of looking.
And, I don’t know about you, but I see foxes.
I’m not in the business of pointing them out.
But I thought you should know.
They’re everywhere.

Desire is the reason.

I remember a funny, yet sad episode of the television police drama “NYPD Blue.”
It featured a man selling black boxes to plain-looking women, promising them an improved appearance.
All they had to do was plug it in and wear it over their heads for a few hours each day.
And pay him $2,000.
The story sounds like the preposterous invention of a comedic screenwriter, but it’s not really.
For years, I’ve seen ads for a unique brand of fitness equipment that looks like a Victorian time machine.
It allows you to “Exercise in exactly 4 minutes per day!”
And in those few minutes, you can get the same results as an hour and a half of conventional exercise.
For a little over $14,000.
Interestingly, the ads show up in the back of popular science magazines, which appeal to “rational” readers.
People who believe in things, as long as there’s a reason and evidence to believe them.
Whether those readers are aware of it or not, desire is their reason to believe.
And evidence is their permission.
Just like the “irrational” women who wore the black boxes.

********

From “The Business of Belief.