While flipping through a pictorial history of the Beatles at the library yesterday I stumbled across a statement by a Decca Record Company executive who later chose to remain anonymous. The explanation as to why Decca turned down the Beatles in 1962 was, “We don’t like their sound. Groups of guitars are on the way out.” That’s an epic case of misjudgment. I wonder how long that record company exec kept his job after the Beatles began their record breaking run of hit songs.

One of the most often quoted statements about misjudgment comes from former U.S. Patent Office director Charles Duell while advising President McKinley to abolish the office. “Everything that can be invented, has been invented.” As history reminds us, it was shortly afterwards that the age of the inventors began. There are no signs of inventiveness diminishing any time soon.

We all misjudge situations because we are human creatures. We can remember many times when we, ourselves, have misjudged a scenario or another person. Many of those misjudgments regard decision making about situations we have not been evolved to make.

In order to deal with information overload and the need for instant analysis, we humans utilize a concept we call “rule of thumb”. We apply a judgment call or propose a solution to a problem based on past experiences with similar scenarios. The technical name for these rules of thumb is “heuristics”.

My college dictionary defines heuristic as: “1. Of or relating to a usually speculative formulation serving as a guide in the investigation or solution of a problem.”

Athletes employ heuristics on a routine basis. For instance, during a baseball game, a fielder must make snap judgments in order to successfully catch and throw a baseball. A professional outfielder utilizes a set of possible heuristics in order to force a hitter out of play. An experienced outfielder knows his limitations and the behavior patterns of hit baseballs very well. This is why a good outfielder makes catching a fly ball seem effortless.

When we drive a vehicle, we use heuristics in order to safely navigate through traffic’s unknown variables or surprise situations. We vary our speed and the distance we follow behind other vehicles according to what we judge to be safe.

Past experience is sometimes an inaccurate gauge. Hence, outfielders can fail to catch baseballs, and we run a risk of traffic accidents. This is why we all need to know and admit to our limitations.

Heuristics are not always the best means for making decisions but we reflexively rely upon them because we have the habit of using them most of the time. We see this happen when people who normally only drive in mild climates find themselves driving during a surprise ice storm. Cars end up in ditches and authorities have to deal with multiple vehicle pile-ups.

Naturally, our reliance upon heuristics can also fail us in our interpersonal scenarios and relationships. As individuals we sometimes feel that we are misunderstood and misjudged. When we realize that other people also feel angry when they are misjudged, we strengthen our empathic skills. This adds another tool to our heuristic toolbox.

When we use some quiet time to examine our own heuristic toolboxes, we can better understand our strengths and limitations. Our personal heuristics tell us this examination will enable a more effective way of living.

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes former chairman of IBM Thomas Watson who in 1943 said, “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.”

About swabby429

An eclectic guy who likes to observe the world around him and comment about those observations.
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