FF Daily #462 | Narrative fallacy: How a story can drown facts

August 31, 2021: Ozan Varol on the capacity to say “I don’t know”; The National Monetisation Pipeline; Navigating anxiety; What’s in the air?

Founding Fuel

[Photo by Mika Baumeister on Unsplash]

Good morning,

In Think Like a Rocket Scientist, Ozan Varol explores the importance of what he calls Feynman’s mindset. This mindset requires a capacity to say “I don’t know” when we don’t know. But, it’s harder than we think because the power of narratives can often drown facts. 

Varol writes, “when we prefer the seeming stability of stories to the messy reality of uncertainty, facts become dispensable and misinformation thrives. Fake news is not a modern phenomenon. Between a good story and a bunch of data, the story has always prevailed. These mentally vivid images strike a deep, lasting chord known as the narrative fallacy. We remember what so-and-so told us about how his male-pattern baldness was caused by too much time in the sun. We fall for the story, throwing logic and scepticism to the wind.

“Authorities then turn these stories into sacred truths. All the facts in the world can’t keep democratically elected hate machines from taking office as long as they can inject a false sense of certainty into an inherently uncertain world. Confident conclusions by loud-mouthed demagogues who pride themselves on rejecting critical thinking begin to dominate the public discourse.”

This is where he brings in Richard Feynman. Even after he earned a Nobel prize, Varol writes, Feynman “thought of himself as a ‘confused ape’ and approached everything around him with the same level of curiosity, which enabled him to see nuances that others dismissed. ‘I think it’s much more interesting to live not knowing,’ he remarked, ‘than to have answers which might be wrong.’

“Feynman’s mindset requires an admission of ignorance and a good dose of humility. When we utter those three dreaded words—I don’t know—our ego deflates, our mind opens, and our ears perk up. Admitting ignorance doesn’t mean remaining willfully oblivious to facts. Rather, it requires a conscious type of uncertainty where you become fully aware of what you don’t know in order to learn and grow.”

In this issue,

  • The National Monetisation Pipeline
  • A new weapon to navigate anxiety during the pandemic
  • What’s in the air?

Have a good day!

The monetisation plan examined 

When finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman unveiled the National Monetisation Pipeline (NMP), it attracted much interest from all quarters. The government’s stated intent is to unlock value worth Rs 6 lakh crore by engaging with the private sector to manage government-owned assets. It will do so by transferring revenues without giving up ownership. Roads, railways and power comprise 66% of these assets. 

Why not go for privatisation instead? Yet another question at the back of the mind was, how may this play out?

That is why when TN Ninan, former chairman and editor of Business Standard and one of the sharpest commentators on public policy, shared his perspective, we read it closely.

“The difference between privatisation and ‘monetisation’ is that the first takes the government out of a business; the second keeps the government in there as an active player. For that reason, privatisation is easier than monetisation,” he wrote in his column in the newspaper.

Having said that, Ninan has words of caution to offer the Narendra Modi government: “both privatisation and monetisation are fraught with risk. Ask the Manmohan Singh government, which was destroyed by the auction of telecom licences and coal mines. Private investors who believed in government processes were destroyed too, because the courts subsequently cancelled both sets of licences.”

Dig deeper

A new weapon to navigate anxiety during the pandemic

It’s not new. It’s pretty old. And it’s gossip.

BBC explains why gossip can actually be beneficial. 

“Although we may not be gathered around a physical water cooler to whisper scandalous hearsay to one another, we have DMs and Slack as alternative remote-work channels. ‘Gossip is driven a lot by uncertainty,’ says [Shannon] Taylor [a professor of management at the University of Central Florida]. ‘I would not be surprised at all if we see higher levels of gossip in the workplace now than we did before Covid. With all of these uncertainties, we’re trying to sort out what other people are thinking and what other people are doing.’ 

“That means that right now, gossip could be about figuring out if your colleagues are in the market for a new job at a place that will allow more flexible work-from-home arrangements, or comparing notes with fellow parents about pandemic-era childcare woes. In doing this, you’re trying to ascertain what information is available amid rapidly changing circumstances as well as who’s in the same boat as you.

“Sometimes, though, gossiping is just unbridled catharsis about people or structures you dislike. Maybe it’s the tyrannical boss who leads by strong-arming, or the team who work passive-aggressively slowly. Yet this gossip can still provide a network of observations and warnings that provide an informal infrastructure of support outside traditional workplace channels like HR.”

Dig deeper

What’s in the air?

(Via WhatsApp)

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Warm regards,

Team Founding Fuel

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