“The writer Walker Percy once said that a tragedy of our modern life is that everything is interesting but nothing becomes deeply important. One of the findings of the new field of neuroeconomics is that our brains easily get overwhelmed by too many ‘interesting’ choices, and we usually end up sticking with whatever we did before, uninspiring as that may be.”
Cooper’s book has both challenged some of my base assumptions as well as confirm some theories I’ve developed as I’ve aged. One of those theories I’ve developed is that for us to find optimal growth in life – in whatever subject or passion that interests us – it’s vital that we guard the flow of information. Like a pilot with his hand ready on the throttle, or an studio engineer with his finger on a fader, we need to remain engaged to increase or decrease the flow, and most importantly, block out distracting information. A recent report (from the Global Information Industry Center, University of California, San Diego) says that the average U.S. household consumes 3.6 zettabytes annually (a zettabyte is one million million gigabytes). In a world that esteems rationality above all other mental ‘senses’, it’s tempting to believe that if we simply had more data, we’d make that next breakthrough.
On the contrary, the more we understand about the brain, the more we see the importance of the delicate balance between knowledge, intuition and habit. Cooper goes on to say:
“The more you know – or think you know – about something, the more blinded you can be to what’s actually happening. This limitation has been called ‘educated incapacity’.”
The Marine Corps changed how decision-making was taught in the 1990s by moving from a very rational “classical checklist” approach to something called “decision tempo”. If you have 70% of a solution and feel 70% confident, you move forward with a decision. Often, these 70% solutions involve both the ‘processing of some facts’ along with ‘gut intuition’. An expertly executed “70% solution” may succeed, which is far better than no decision or action at all. Richard Farson (president of Western Behavioral Science Institute) said “the one quality that many of the best leaders agree separates them from the less successful rivals is confidence in their intuition.”
It’s an interesting dilemma for our day and age. We have access to the largest amount of collective information in human history – information which is supposed to make life better, easier, more meaningful. We live in an ‘empiricist’ culture – where rational analysis is believed to be the highest, most objective approach. However, science shows that too much information overwhelms the brain, making it that much harder to make choices to change, excel and find true meaning and purpose in life.