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Jul 19th, 2021 Share: Share on Twitter Share on Facebook Share on LinkedIn

How We Form Abstract Beliefs

You heard me lament our willingness to trust a little too easily what we read/hear/see from so-called “experts” before. We talked about our skewed tendency to put people on a pedestal. The other day, I read a succinct summarization of how this all works and why it happens:

Remember the order in which we form abstract beliefs: (1) We hear something; (2) We believe it; (3) Only sometimes, later, if we have the time or the inclination, we think about it and vet it, determining whether or not it is true.

This is an important insight into the way we operate — the pattern developed to reduce cognitive load. It makes sense: You don’t want to (and really can’t) think about every decision you take during a day. You have to rely on secondary information, otherwise you would spend all day long fact-checking.

But here is where this bites you into the backside: I see too many people make substantial arguments and subsequently decisions on, what essentially amounts to, hearsay. Just look at the quality of data sources in a typical startup pitch — most of the market data is secondary (nothing wrong with that per-se as it would be close to impossible to generate all the necessary data through your own research). But most of that secondary data is never questioned or verified, and thus shouldn’t be used to base major strategic decisions on.

Point in case: In the late 90s, during the first dot-com boom, it was common practice to pick the set of market data which showed the biggest possible market (I am guilty as charged here). You simply cherry-picked from a couple of sources and didn’t really question any of the underlying assumptions. If you think about it — it’s a wild thing to do, knowing that the average startup takes 7-10 years to build. Seven to ten years of your life based on assumptions which you haven’t properly vetted.

Don’t do this.

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