Saturday, January 29, 2011

Critical thinking and quest for truth



From our childhood, we are hammered in with the idea that speaking the truth is good, lying is bad, and other virtues of truth. coupled with the above virtue we are also told that we should treat others the same way as we want to be treated. second statement has an implicit assumption, that if we treat others well, they would do the same. But on a deeper reflection it becomes clear that there is no such thing that you will be treated the same way as you treat others. But that implicit assumption is so strong, that even if we know about it, we can't help avoid thinking that way. If we extend the treat well and be treated well hypothesis to speaking truth, will it work? well, as far as I understand, it does not work.


So what should we do? I think that we should try to be truthful and also focus on discovering the truth. Well, why should we focus on discovering truth? Because of 2 reasons. First is that in many circumstances things around us are inanimate so they can not reveal their true nature. and second is that when people know that there are other people who are focused on discovering the truth, they would find it difficult to lie. The assumption that if we speak the truth others would do the same, makes us naive and vulnerable. People are often trying to convey a message that helps to promote their image, but such message is often not true.


For example, When we are presented by an idea by advertisers, sellers and other experts, we are likely to do better if we focus on discovering the truth. Case in point is a recent advertisement campaign. When Indian government announced mobile number portability, Idea started huge advertisement campaign claiming idea service to be better than other services. But in my experience with various service providers, Idea has the worst coverage. Often I find it difficult to stay in conversation if I am moving, and the worst is that connection gets dropped quite often. We have also observed that only Airtel connection is the one that is available in remote areas. But if someone believes only idea advertisement, that person is going to get it and may not be happy.


We could consider the following example to understand how reflection about truth might work.


When I read about some particular concept or idea, I get excited about it like a child, but later my sceptic self kicks in. for example, I read about Emotional intelligence, and for next one year, everything seemed to be related to Emotional intelligence. I felt that emotional intelligence is the key to most of social problems. But I was not confident about it, because the only source that I knew was a few scholars who are related with Daniel Goleman. Then I read criticism about emotional intelligence in the book Executive Intelligence by Justin Menkes. This book states that emotional intelligence is not something new as most of what is covered is either part of critical thinking or personality style. and according to the author many research findings have shown that personality styles do not make much difference in the performance of an executive. although I am thankful to executive intelligence for providing me the other side of emotional intelligence, I do not agree that emotional intelligence may not work. In my experience, many components of emotional intelligence do matter. For example, empathy matters allot, as that is the key to understand others, and self awareness also matters as it helps us to understand ourselves better. Sure there is some overlap between emotional intelligence and critical thinking, such as empathy can be equated with taking multiple perspectives, but empathy  is to do with other's feelings and perspective can be about anything. and After reading from both sides I have come to believe that both emotional intelligence and critical thinking are important.

This also reminds me that when we are collecting information we should be aware about confirmation bias, which means we tend to gather information to confirm what we already believe.


Although now I am a bit more certain that both emotional intelligence and critical thinking are important, I am still open for any other fact so I believe that my main goal in life seems to be quest for the truth.





Thursday, January 27, 2011

strategy and attachment

Recently, I was reading an article, and as usual I  encountered ‘like’ button of facebook. Although I have seen ‘like’ many a times, this time it just struck me that ‘like’ has become as pervasive as Google search box. Then I had a question, that why don’t we see Bing search box as often as Microsoft would want us to see? Despite of Microsoft’s immense efforts to dominate search space, it has only been able to acquire 10 percent share of search.


Google search or facebook or twitter widgets help a website to add a unique value for its users. Google search allowed websites to add search capability for its users and provided extra revenue to websites. Similarly facebook, twitter and other social media widgets allow users to share the experience with other people.  So there has to be a unique value that users derive from a new product or service for it to succeed. So trying to create another twitter or another facebook would really be a waste of resources and energy for companies.


So I wonder, why do many companies waist resources on creating exactly similar products? There is no harm to have similar products if playing field is somewhat similar, but for things like windows or Google search, with 80 to 90 percent dominance, having another search does not help a company. Although for end users it is mostly beneficial to have many players, that’s how quality of products improves.


So getting back to why companies do what is not beneficial to them? I think the problem is that when a company has an extremely successful product, most of its systems are geared to efficiently exploiting anything closely associated with that product. And anyone who is trying to create something new, would be mostly able to think in terms of the existing product or services.


For example, inside  Microsoft people mostly understand how windows got successful, and so they always want to exploit windows dominance. In Google people understand how search got successful, so googlars know how to exploit the search space for other products. As long as original product has momentum, everything works fine, but when the main product starts losing, company as a whole may start losing if it does not understand this reality. This observation is somewhat similar to a concept in economics, known as Dutch disease.


According to the Wikipedia entry about Dutch disease:


the Dutch disease is a concept that purportedly explains the apparent relationship between the increase in exploitation of natural resources and a decline in the manufacturing sector. The claimed mechanism is that an increase in revenues from natural resources (or inflows of foreign aid) will make a given nation's currency stronger compared to that of other nations (manifest in an exchange rate), resulting in the nation's other exports becoming more expensive for other countries to buy, making the manufacturing sector less competitive.


So what can companies do? A company has to find new ways of doingthings or it may just get out of business.Companies can learn from Intel’s legendary  story. When intel was facing problem of losing money on memory chip business, Andy Grove asked Gordon Moore one simple question: if we were fired, and a new CEO comes in, would he do what we are doing? Then Moore replied that he will close memory business and invest in some other business. So Andy Grove suggested that why don’t we do the same and they litterally fired themselves and started fresh.


The above method helps us to get rid of attachments to our idea and positions.