Never assume the obvious is true – A creed for an uncommon life
written by Kent Healy
⇒05 Aug 2011
Uncommon: As humans we desire closure. We long to know not only what has happened but why it has happened. Whether it’s gossip, a natural disaster, a freak incident, or a success story – we want the 411. We want to know how ‘it’ can be repeated or avoided.
… so we endeavor to explain it.
This seems simple enough. But that is the problem. It appears so simple to analyze the WHAT that we feel we can accurately explain the WHY – the reasons something has occurred. This is more dangerous than one might think.
By assuming we have ‘the’ answer or more accurately, a definitive explanation, we often do several things that change the course of future actions and future outcomes. We…
- Curb our curiosity
- Stop investigating
- Act in accordance to the story we’ve developed surrounding the outcome
In our heads, it’s a matter of “case closed – nothing to see here.” We move on without realizing that this new information has tweaked and reshaped our world view as well as our definition of what’s realistic and/or possible.
In retrospect, we can see countless examples of how the obvious proved to be false. For instance, man has attempted to soar through the air in a flying contraption for centuries. The outcome of many failed attempts told the masses that flying was impossible. Science once told us the earth marked the center of the universe. Powerful and intelligent leaders told us the world was flat and at the edge were perilous cascading waterfalls that fell to oblivion.
Although silly now, these conclusions greatly influenced people’s lives and the pace of innovation. But fortunately, there have always been a notable few who have questioned the restricting, but “obvious” facts of the day to pursue the uncommon.
The curse of the obvious:
The ‘obvious’ becomes so because it is often information that appears to explain what has already happened and why. But we must be careful because WHAT does not always equal WHY.
When we know a certain outcome (the what) has taken place we tend to disregard the probability of an alternative. In actuality, the outcome that we attempt to explain might indeed be an anomaly with more variables than initially expected. But we still fool ourselves into thinking a logical descriptor can explain both the what and the why.
As Duncan Watts would say, “Everything is obvious… once you know the answer.” But knowing an outcome is hardly descriptive. In fact, it’s mostly misleading. Outcomes often confirm assumptions and extinguish curiosity.
When an author describes personality traits of a successful individual, for example, it’s easy to associate her observations with the outcome (the cause of success). However, the assumed “outcome” may disregard instances where the same traits and circumstances led another astray (other possible alternatives). In other words, correlation is not necessarily causation.
The world of literature (newspapers, books, academia, etc.), is also rife with similar delusive conclusions that often result from the rather presumptuous method of deductive reasoning. These analytic methods serve important purposes, but they do not always lead to accurate conclusions.
Don’t believe everything you think:
It’s human nature to believe what we see, trust age-old advice, and seek conclusions from ‘experts.’ We cling to the obvious for many reasons: It’s justifiable. It’s popular. It’s familiar. It’s comfortable. And it’s often the path of least resistance. But, it’s not a path to an uncommon life.
Not surprisingly, the ‘obvious’ is the first thing everyone notices and the one thing that determines how most people respond. This, of course, is why it’s a path to the prevalent and ordinary.
The obvious encourages us to oversimplify what we see and think and then justify our initial assumptions. We soon arrive at bold conclusions with the same baseless confidence that blinds us to the unimagined and the undiscovered.
Maverick thinkers, however, remain curious. They maintain a healthy level of skepticism amid circumstances that appear to offer an ‘obvious’ explanation. This is why they continue testing, questioning, poking, and prodding at the facts to reveal new alternatives.
What are your thoughts on the topic? Post your comments below.
To an uncommon life,
Have we connected on:
You might also enjoy:
- My free Maxims for Mavericks ebook
- My Maxims for Mavericks blog (for more frequent, concise insights)
Related posts:ALL posts, Lifestyle Design, Practical Philosophy and tagged braching out, cultivating curiosity, determining the truth, drawing false conclusions, finding the truth, inventing the new, making a prediction, misleading facts, new opportunity, power of myth, question everything, seeking accurate information, seeking the new, story telling, the uncommon life, what happened and why it happened, why predictions are often wrong, why things happen. Bookmark the permalink.