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Pride and prejudice: falling in love with your own bad ideas

Opinion, often hasty, can incline to the wrong side, and then affection for one's own opinion binds, confines the mind

- The Divine Comedy

Sometimes I have bad ideas. Happens to the best of us. If I try to avoid them my mind freezes up. So I just let the ideas flow. No filters. Sure, most of them are crap, but every once in a while a gem of a good idea passes through.

If you can sort out the good ideas from the bad, you can gradually accumulate an impressive looking collection of good ideas. To someone who doesn't know how the sausage is made, it might seem like you only come up with good ideas. But that's just an illusion of course.

This gradual process of refinement is the essential force behind any creative work. At least for me. The only major pitfall is that it doesn't work if you accidentally get so attached to your bad ideas that you can't throw them out. Pride and prejudice, there's the rub.

I've come to realize this is probably the root problem behind my most dramatic failures.

In other words, you're much more likely to fail when you become so infatuated with your own creations that it's impossible for you to disengage and see things from the perspective of a neutral observer. Someone who doesn't share your prejudices.

It's a trap. When you fall into it you become kind of like the proud, obnoxious grandmother who fails to anticipate how her miserable guests could possibly fail to share her delight in going over all of her grandchildren's photo albums.

Don't fret. You're in good company. Grandmothers, entrepreneurs, lifelong stamp collectors, etymologists with their galleries of dead insects, Farmville enthusiasts and pretty much every person that has ever cultivated an irrational attachment for something they have invested their energy into.

It's called post-purchase rationalization:

"Post-purchase rationalization is a common phenomenon which occurs after people who have invested significant time, money, or effort in something try to convince themselves that it must have been worth it. Many decisions are made emotionally, and so are often rationalized retrospectively in an attempt to justify the choice."

It's deceptively tricky to recognize you're biased and escape from it because once acquired, the next natural step is to make another mistake and seek confirmation for your preconception:

"Confirmation bias is a tendency for people to favor information that confirms their preconceptions or hypotheses regardless of whether the information is true. As a result, people gather evidence and recall information from memory selectively, and interpret it in a biased way."

Tolstoy said it best:

"I know that most men not only those considered clever, but even those who are very clever, and capable of understanding most difficult scientific, mathematical, or philosophic problems can very seldom discern even the simplest and most obvious truth if it be such as to oblige them to admit the falsity of conclusions they have formed, perhaps with much difficulty conclusions of which they are proud, which they have taught to others, and on which they have built their lives"

What are you biased about?

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