Monday, July 27, 2015

Pants on Fire

I am a liar. I have always been a liar.

That's better. Get it all out there.

Right. To business. You know those personality profile tests you can do? I always come out as highly intuitive. In Myers Briggs terms, if it is N or S I get 30-50 N every time.

My interest in statistics is because it is good for me; they are counter-intuitive and I have to stop and think (favouring T over F it is not all sacrifice). Daniel Kahneman's 'Thinking Fast and Slow' has been a helpful companion to me, reminding me to check my preconceived ideas regularly, challenge assumptions I have made and yet not lose the essential quick-wittedness that helps me get on and get stuff done.

But if you ask me a question - say cheese or ham in your sandwich - I will not think about it. There will be a day for ham and a day for cheese and a day for both and I'll just know. I may decide at the last possible minute, which scares some people. A colleague once asked me in a queue in a sandwich shop what I was going to have and was bothered that with my turn coming next, and before his, I still didn't know. I was almost tempted to ask the assistant to 'Make me a sandwich' on the basis that it was a sandwich shop and I like almost all sandwiches. I order food without over-contemplating and act as if the decision is correct from then on.

If you ask me which way a room should be set up for a meeting I will know and I will tell you. If you ask my why I chose that I will have to look at my decision and work out what reason there is and discover that, intuitively I went through a process of eliminating all the ways it would be wrong for the chairs to face and coming up with an answer. Sometimes all the ways the chairs could face will be wrong in some way so my answer, intuitively grabbed from the sub-conscious shelf, will turn out to be the direction that has the least wrong about it. I have set out rooms a lot. Only occasionally do I re-check the working.

Showing my working involves analysing how I got there.

As a child I used to tell the truth. This got me into trouble:

Parent: Why did you do ... (Insert wrong thing here)?
Me: I don't know.
Parent (or sometimes a teacher): You must know. Everyone knows why they do things.

And so I discovered that life is easier for others if you have a narrative structure. So I invent stories that explain why decisions are right, after I have made them. Since occasionally my decisions are wrong my stories may well be lies.

Never was this more challenging than in the obviously right decision to encourage one of my church's PCCs to spend over half a million pounds on the old rectory next door during a clergy vacancy rather than see it fall into private ownership.

Almost everyone wanted to know the thinking. What was the vision? Why should we do it?

It would never have happened if I, or any of the other intuitives on the team who also got it, had insisted it was because we knew it was right. So visions were cast, stories were told, possibilities were discussed but at the end of the day it was a no-brainer. Even if it turned out we had no use for the building whatsoever we could always sell it, probably for more than we paid for it.

Asking an intuitive to show working is asking them to tell you something that doesn't exist. It is asking them to lie. And we are very good at it. We tell stories to fill the gap between our grasp of reality and yours.

Our stories are excellent because we have much experience. 'Was that true?' No, but the narrative demanded it at that point.

It follows that some of the stories I have told over my life, to show working or explain things, were not true, but with repetition I almost believe them myself.

By the way I don't mind my decisions being challenged. As long as you can explain to me what is wrong with mine and better about yours. And if you're intuitive too? Well we probably won't disagree but if we do we will really enjoy the exploration of the truth, probably over beer.

How do you feel about that? Before you answer take a moment to ponder how much you hated, and continue to hate, the parental/ authority answer to the question 'Why?'

Because I say so.

You always wanted a reason, and always will.

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