Emergic: Rajesh Jain's Blog

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TECH TALK: Multi-Model Minds: Flawed Minds

February 7th, 2005 · No Comments

I was sitting through a presentation recently when a thought struck me: we spend a lifetime correcting for an inadequate education.

What I mean is that the education we get in the formative and most impressionable years of our lives is incomplete. Rather than teaching us the ability to learn, it teaches us a few things at the expense of others. This half-baked education can be quite dangerous because when we are called to make decisions, we do so based on our thinking. And if that thinking has only a partial set of mental models, we can make inherently flawed decisions. What is worse is that we probably will not even realise it.

That is why I believe that we pay a very high price learning through experience in the middle-trimester of our life when we could so easily have been taught the right approaches in the first trimester. The faster we learn to learn and build the right mental models, the better off we and those around us will be.

The way we think determines what we do. We need to set our thinking right. And to think right, we need to instill in ourselves multiple mental models. Let me explain.

The presentation I was sitting through that day was on rural India. The discussion was on what we can be done to transform rural India. Much of the focus was around the notion of making available a computer (kiosk) connected to the Internet in every India village all 600,000 of them. This way, all kinds of services ranging from education to entertainment could be offered to the rural people. The problem was that the early experiments with the kiosks had not been that great not many of them earned enough to pay back the loan and support the kiosk operator.

As I sat there listening, a couple of thoughts struck me. One, that we were trying to solve the problem at the wrong scale. Trying to go in and put 600,000 points of Internet and computing would be incredibly expensive given the lack of an underlying infrastructure of power and connectivity. The obvious solution to this scaling down the problem to think of rural computing hubs was dismissed because of the underlying belief among key decision-makers that people need not (and would not) walk to access computing and services it should be delivered as close to them as possible.

The second point was the flawed approach to thinking of services. Most of the services discussed were what I can only describe as urban-centric consumption services. They would all suck money away from the rural people. The need of the hour was for income-enhancing production-oriented services. In a way, the urban usage of computers was being thrust on to rural India.

These disconnects forced me to think: why do intelligent people not make intelligent decisions? The answer that stood out was that people did not understand the problem correctly and therefore the solution proposed was orthogonal to the problem. To understand the problem correctly needs a mental framework that can get to its root. And for that, we need in place multiple mental models.

Unfortunately for us, even as we are taught a few ideas and models well, there are many others we do not understand at all. For example, those who understand technology may not understand economics, and vice versa. The result is incomplete decision-making mindsets. The solution is not getting people who are experts in different areas together for the right decisions to emerge, it is necessary for all the important mental models to reside in one mind.

Tomorrow: The Early Years

Tags: Tech Talk

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