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Unlearning Lesson #5: Do Not Feed Creatures of Habit

Posted in Change, Unlearning

Lesson #5: Do Not Feed Creatures of Habit

Not choice, but habit, rules the unreflecting herd.” – William Wordsworth

Question #5: On a game show, you are given the option of choosing a gift behind one of three doors. One door holds a new car; the other two, goats. After you have made your selection, the game host (who knows what’s behind each door) opens one to reveal a goat and then gives you the option of switching your selection. Is it in your best interest to do so?

If you’re like most people, you won’t change because you believe you still have a one-out-of-three (33.33%) chance of having made the right decision. The statistically smart thing to do is to accept the host’s offer and switch your vote. In fact, this act doubles your probability of winning from 33.33% to 66.67%.

This result is so counter-intuitive that when this question and its answer were presented in a Parade magazine article in 1990 some 10,000 readers, including nearly 1,000 PhD’s, responded afterwards that the proposed solution (“switching”) was wrong. Alas, it was they who were wrong. (For a more detailed explanation of the statistics behind the solution visit: Wikipedia.org/wiki/Monty_Hall_Problem).

The choice of whether you choose to unlearn or not is, of course, your own but if you feel the act won’t confer a distinct advantage on you or your organization, you may want to consider just a small sampling of findings which, like the above problem, may challenge your intuition:

–In the long run, not listening to your best customers could be a wiser strategy than catering to their every whim;

–Taking more risks, embracing failure and practicing imperfection can produce better results than the relentless pursuit of perfection:

–The collective opinion of a random group of independent individuals will, more often than not, be superior to the opinion of an expert;

–For the health of your organization, older workers should be encouraged to seek out younger and more inexperienced colleagues as mentors rather than vice versa;

–Under-scheduling your day, turning off your cellphone, taking more naps and going on more vacations can bolster productivity;

–The interview question most likely to be indicative of long-term employee success has nothing to do with a person’s educational background or past experience;

–Using money as a financial incentive to bolster employee productivity can be counter-productive and lead to disastrous results;

–Telling an employee (or a child) that he or she is smart can hinder creativity and problem-solving skills; and

–Acknowledging what you and your company don’t know is far more important than what you do know.

It’s perfectly understandable if you find yourself resisting many of these findings. As I said, the choice to unlearn or not is yours alone. You are entitled your opinions. If, though, you do get in the habit of feeding your curiosity and not your habits of thought, I can guarantee you—statistically speaking—your odds of future success will be much improved.

Homework Assignment #5: Regardless of which leg you normally put in first when putting on your pants, try placing the opposite leg in first. The exercise will feel odd in the beginning and it may even be difficult for some people but stick with it for an entire week. If you do your balance will improve. Afterwards, on occasion, use the exercise as a tangible reminder that in order to lead a well-balanced life it’s in your best interest to starve some of your creatures of habit on occasion.

(P.S. If you would like to read 38 additional “unlearning lessons,” consider picking up a copy of my new book, Higher Unlearning: 39 Post-Requisite Lessons for Achieving a Successful Future.)

Interested in other “unlearning”-related posts? Check out these older posts:


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