How are Beliefs formed?

(Short post this week as I spent most of the week being sick)

Last post talked about the importance of Beliefs in the process of breaking down strategy into actions and results . I loosely defined Beliefs as “what we believe we can do to move closer to the strategic intent”. This begs the question of how these Beliefs should be created. 

To start, it is enlightening to look at how humans generally form beliefs. A proponent of the “Homo economicus” (rational choice theory), would argue it goes something like:

  1. We hear something
  2. We consider it carefully comparing it to other things we know
  3. We accept it to be true and create a belief

This is a flattering image of the human mind. However modern psychology paints a more embarrassing picture of our belief formation process which goes something like:

  1. We hear something
  2. We accept it to be true 
  3. In the best case we construct arguments for why we believe it to be true

This is most evident in common false beliefs that we hold such as that male baldness is inherited from the maternal grandfather or that Inuites have a disproportionate number of words to describe snow (entertaining list). When it comes to beliefs, we are programmed to prefer false positives over false negative, which makes sense from an evolutionary context. Compare the survival odds of always believing the sound in the bush is a lion versus never believing the sound in the bush is a lion. One bias is more likely to produce offspring. But though it has served us well, this bias is now making it harder for us to form correct beliefs. 

Taking this back to product management, I would argue there is an even larger risk of an organization creating “false beliefs”. Since the employees apart from having their normal flawed belief formation process are also usually incentivised by the organizational structure to create biased thinking in one direction. This is why we need  guardrails that makes it harder for us to create false beliefs. These guardrails are basing facts in data and a process that mitigates social effects such as rank from the Belief formation process.

Inspiration: Thinking in Bets by Annie Duke