Saturday, July 24, 2010

TM - Speech 5 - Your Body Speaks - False assumptions can get you in all sorts of trouble

A couple of years ago an interesting thing happened to me. I was on my way to work. Like any other day, I was riding in the first car of the train, because I knew when I get off the train at Finch station there will be an escalator that takes me to the main level. I got on the escalator and started taking steps up. But, I noticed my steps were not bringing me closer to the top of the escalator. All of a sudden, I lost my balance and fell on all four. At this point in time I panicked, my brain logic system shut down and it started working in survival mode. I had to survive whatever was happening to me. So, I dropped my bag then I got rid of my lunch box. And took hold of the hand rail with both hands. My grip was so tight my knuckles turned white. I started literally climbing up the stairs. Finally, when I got to the top of the escalator, I looked down for my bag and lunch box; I noticed that the escalator that I assumed was going up, is going down.

Obviously, this assumption got me into trouble!

As human beings we usually make assumptions based on past experiences, cultural stereotypes and social stigmas. We see a tall guy we say, oh he must be a good basketball player, we see an Asian gal, we say she is definitely good in math, we are introduced to an Italian and we think he must like pasta. By way of assumption, we are taking a shortcut in our decision making process. We avoid fact gathering, analysis and deduction.

Let's take a look at one example together. How many of you think that the express lane of a supermarket is faster than other lanes?

I found this example on Dan Myer's weblog. Dan is a math teacher. He uses this example to teach his students math reasoning. The students, in order to find an answer for this question, go to a supermarket and observe how fast the lines at the registers are moving. They collect two piece of data, the number of items in a customer's baskets and the time it took for the customer to pay for these items. The graph, based on this data, looks like this.

When I looked at this graph, two things caught my eye.
1. there is a nominal time spent in front of a cash register even if you have no items to pay. Interesting? What may you be doing at the cash register if you have no items. Well you may ask the cashier where you can find soap.
2. the second thing were the outlier data. e.g. it look less for an individual with 26 items to pay for his items than it did for another individual to pay for 17 items in the express lane. How could this be? Well, we often overlook that methods of payment such as debit or credit can take longer than cash.

The point I am trying to make is assumptions may not yield the right answer. As we clearly see in this example.

I'd like to suggest that we become more aware of our thinking process. Realize when our decisions are based on assumptions. And ask ourselves what those assumptions are based.

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