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Contrarian Thinking: 4 Rules to Help Maintain an Endless Learning Mindset


Munger at Berkshire Hathaway's 2010 shareholder meeting

As a startup founder or employee, it is important to be a skeptic in regards to the information you hear, watch, and read. All too often, even the smartest of people fall victim to weak or inaccurate information from (inherently biased) media sources.

But why is this?

Perhaps it’s a symptom of how we are educated. Throughout our educational careers, our teachers give us a wealth of information. Because this information is given to us by someone whose job is to educate us, we believe this information is factual. Similarly, people often view media sources as offering factual information because their job is to report the “facts” of the stories they are sharing with their audiences.

One shouldn’t believe everything outright nor should one deny everything outright either. You should instead remember to always ask questions and detect biases in yourself and others.

The brain is always looking for shortcuts

It's important to stay sharp enough to find holes in thought patterns and information and to be clear-minded enough to probe deeper than the surface layer of information that comes at you. Remember that all information sources are created and pushed to you by humans - flawed creatures with brains that are easily capable of holding on to biases that can be passed to the recipients of their messages.

The human brain is always looking for shortcuts - so when it comes to auditing yourself of bias-free thinking, look at the sources of your information and beware of confirmation bias. It's way too easy to feed your mind only information with which you agree. Your mind will always wish to have information that confirms its current beliefs.

A critical-thinking mind holds information but does not associate self-worth or ego to this information. People miss the opportunity to be enlightened when they hold “information” as representations of their self-worth.

Wise words from the wizard of economics

Charlie Munger stated it best, “Show me the incentive, and I will show you the outcome” - which in economist speak means that people are driven by (most times) selfish desires to improve their life in one way or another. To find the truth in any piece of information, you first need to understand the incentives that are motivating the information source to publish the content to begin with.

Rage Against the (News Media) Machine

It’s probably obvious to most that ad-driven news sources are highly susceptible to spreading biased information. Their hidden incentive is to capture and retain the attention of their target audience as long as possible in order to deliver as many ads as possible. Big news media will rarely (if ever) challenge the beliefs of their target audience for fear of losing their attention.

The incentives point to why typical media sources are predictably unreliable and feed audiences biased, factually incomplete, and/or false information. Getting the full picture of a subject from any single media source is nearly impossible when it comes free and is driven by ads.

Furthermore, most news is fueled by the social media feed. Shielding the brain from the fire hose of information that comes when discerning facts from reality is probably a good idea. Try to always be mindful of storing information correctly. Don’t allow information that is potentially flawed by bias or outright fabrication to be stored as “fact”.

It is good to stay mindful that social media feeds are designed to push your confirmation biases because that’s the way to hold your attention the longest.

Mind the Gap(s)

To exercise the critical-thinking mind, you might need to first re-evaluate some of the “facts” you already “know” and then move forward with both eyes open (so to speak) to your own biases as well as to the biases of the media.

So what can you do to mitigate potential bias in the information you receive?

(1) Get information from multiple sources and viewpoints.

(2) Mentally sort fact from opinion as you take in all media.

(3) Understand that social media is a confirmation bias machine.

(4) Don’t associate the concepts and information you have in memory as part of your self-worth - keep your mind free to review unknown facts that might change your position on a subject.

It’s important to be mindful of hidden incentives within people who publish information because it gives you a shot at actually solving problems, making good decisions, and being innovative - rather than going in endless logic loops that lead to indecision and wasted mental energy.

Cheers to independent and critical thinking!

About me: I’m mostly focused on internet growth, culture, and startups and am the COO at Wafer Inc. When I can find time between being a co-founder and life I enjoy writing, mostly here and occasionally on LinkedIn. If you enjoy my writing, subscribe or follow me on LinkedIn to see more in the future.

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