Dunning-Kruger effect

January 17, 2018


… while almost everyone holds favourable views of their abilities in various social and intellectual domains, some people mistakenly assess their abilities as being much higher than they actually are. This ‘illusion of confidence’ is now called the ‘Dunning-Kruger effect’, and describes the cognitive bias to inflate self-assessment

… the poorest performers showed no recognition, despite clear and repeated feedback that they were doing badly. Instead of being confused, perplexed or thoughtful about their erroneous ways, incompetent people insist that their ways are correct.

Interestingly, really smart people also fail to accurately self-assess their abilities. As much as D- and F-grade students overestimate their abilities, A-grade students underestimate theirs …

These students presumed that if these cognitive tasks were easy for them, then they must be just as easy or even easier for everyone else. This so-called ‘imposter syndrome’ can be likened to the inverse of the Dunning-Kruger effect, whereby high achievers fail to recognise their talents and think that others are equally competent. The difference is that competent people can and do adjust their self-assessment given appropriate feedback, while incompetent individuals cannot.


Improvisation / Mushin (1)

January 16, 2018


The Chinese philosopher Han Fei Zi (c280-233 BCE) had a deep influence on the development of Chinese bureaucracy, because he proposed that decision-making be taken out of the hands of individuals (with their unreliable intuitions and methods) and placed within a set of rules (simple, impartial and inflexible). This is the principle of xingming: a ruler can best rely on officials who follow his rules, not their own impulses.

Han Fei Zi tells a revealing story of Lord Zhao, who had a cadre of personal and professional servants, including a cap valet and a separate cloak valet. One day, while the lord was out on an expedition, he became drunk and fell asleep. The Valet of Caps, seeing that the lord was cold, placed the cloak over him to keep him warm. When the lord awoke, he was pleased to find the cloak on him and asked who put it on. The Valet of Caps proudly stepped forward to take credit, but when the lord heard this, he punished both the Valet of Caps and the Valet of Cloaks. The lesson: never do another person’s job. Rather than use your own judgment to solve a problem, just conform to the system’s division of labour.

Moving decision-making away from people and putting it in stable institutions is a successful strategy for large, complex and expansionary societies, which are increasingly made up of strangers. On the other hand, bureaucracy is soul-crushing and alienating in its inflexibility and inhumanity. What is more, it exacts a psychological price.

In their book Engineers of Jihad: The Curious Connection Between Violent Extremism and Education (2016), the social scientists Diego Gambetta and Steffen Hertog characterise the rule-following mindset as thin-skinned and inflexible. Rule-followers are easily bruised, when expectations are not met, and uncomfortable with ambiguity: seeking ‘cognitive closure’ wherever possible. They tend to accept prevailing hierarchies of power and thrive within predetermined institutional structures. Interestingly, the rule-follower also shows high degrees of psychological disgust when encountering unfamiliar experiences or norms.

This aversion is a significant obstacle, tied to a person’s sense of value and worldview. One of the main ways to break out and become someone who studies, experiments, observes, etc. is to be surrounded and supported by others who do the same. In other words, what’s needed is a safe social environment / community.

Also, as the world is full of “other”, and people are more liable to have contact with “other” these days, being a person who is always experiencing disgust, or otherwise mentally maneuvering to suppress that disgust, sounds exhausting. The reaction of disgust would fall under “hate” in the Buddhist sense. Having such reactions would mean “hanpatsu”, which is the opposite of “sunao”, which is a mind that accepts straightforwardly with no need for maneuvering, justifying, etc. Having a “sunao” mind must be closely related to “mushin”, no-mind, a mind that just is and does, with no figuring out or strategizing, no reacting and hating.

In the context of the current aikido world, which is becoming more splintered with diverse worldviews and value systems – more opportunities to encounter unfamiliarity and therefore be disgusted – the idea of community becomes more and more important. Not (only) to have some kind of safe bubble in which to exist, but to have a safe base from which to reach out and connect with others. There needs to be a balance by community leaders between their efforts to reach out and to cultivate strong communities.

Yet life is intrinsically changing, moving, disappointing and positively surprising. Meeting life with unbending expectations is a recipe for disaster. Those who expect the world to conform to their preset calculations and predictions are destined to be frustrated. They are uncomfortable with spontaneity, and rail against deviations.

Another important Chinese philosopher, Laozi (5th century BCE), promoted fluid and improvisational thinking to bring the sensitive person in line with the Dao (the Way of Nature). According to Laozi, it is by being receptive to immediate experience (wu-wei) that the wise person adapts perfectly to the unique needs of the situation. …

Given what we know about rigid and doctrinaire thinking, the Daoist approach sounds pretty appealing. Our bohemian tendencies assume that improvisation is the antidote to rigid thinking. But improvisation isn’t foolproof either. We live in an age of chaotic political improvisation, which is hardly reassuring at a global scale. So if we want to overcome the rigidity of the bureaucrat, how do make sure our improvisations don’t go sour?

… while ad-libbing can produce novel solutions and genius expressions, sometimes it flounders horribly and does damage instead.

Anyone who has played improvisational music with others is familiar with the virtuoso who has great skill and expertise but bad social sensitivity. In performance, he tears into melodic acrobatics, but never listens enough to know when to stop, or hand it over to another player, or modify and adapt to the aural environment. His narcissism undoes his own musicality. And it can go the other way too, since the overly shy improviser never gets courage enough to assert his musical ideas. A psychological balance of humility and hubris facilitate good improvisation, not just in music but in art, science and business.

When a person is coming from the hubris end of the spectrum, they need to open up to the experience (and corresponding fear and anxiety) of not doing. When a person is coming from the humility end, they need to risk stepping on others’ feet  and endure others’ reactions to their risk-taking experiments. Both people need to have perseverance to continue their endeavors in the context of failures and fear and anxiety. They also need to develop cleverness to improve their experiments, and greater self-regulation to recognize their fear and anxiety is not always so needed.

Sometimes, the problem is a kind of domain overreach. The great physicist, for example, is not automatically qualified to make good poetry. The great business-person is not inevitably effective in the domain of government. And yet, sometimes, overreach is exactly what is needed. One is reminded of George Bernard Shaw’s quip that ‘All progress depends on the unreasonable man.’ Perhaps good improvisation is discernible only in hindsight; we know it’s good because it worked.

“Domain overreach”. Basically, this is about the value of someone not thinking inside the proverbial lines. Ideas may occur to them that don’t come to the experienced expert. And when the ideas don’t immediately fit, or work, they may be more creative in adapting them, rather than giving up right away. This is also about the value of an experienced person continuing to look outside their own “box”, at other fields, other experts, and processes they don’t see in their own daily “box”.

However, this cannot be entirely correct. Often, we do know good improvisation when we see it in action. Watching a football game, you can tell when a player or team is making smart adaptive moves – responsive to the immediate conditions – even when some bad luck or last-minute mistake derails an otherwise skilful trajectory. Even when they lose, we can still see good improv in process. It’s just that there is also bad luck and, sometimes, even better improvisers on the other side. And we can similarly recognise good musical and medical improvisation while it’s happening.

The bad improviser makes moves that are maladaptive. And the single greatest predictor of quality improv is simply experience. But there’s nothing simple about experience. A great jazz improviser such as Miles Davis had thousands of hours of practice and problem-solving underneath every one of his improvisational flights. This kind of experience makes good improv highly intuitive in a biological sense, not a mystical sense. It taps into the subtle systems of animal awareness, mostly unconscious, that we all possess, such as body-awareness (proprioception), personal space (proxemics), and arousal states such as fight or flight. Muscle memory is loaded with this kind of intuitive wisdom.

Improv is also highly adaptive because it seeks to fit (adapt) to an environment, to fit a structure to a function, a part to a whole. Primates and other mammals improvise occasionally (eg, piling boxes to reach food, etc), but humans are masters of repurposing materials to new functions – turning reading-glasses into fire starters, dental-floss into fishing line, and duct tape into everything else. We are the improvising apes.

This kind of decision-making is particularly valuable in situations of resource deficiency. The perfectly provisioned kitchen or tool shed has an implement for every task. But the improviser does not have such optimal resources. And this paucity of resources is the very condition of creativity because it forces a kind of lateral thinking. …

“Resource deficiency” is crucial to the practice of budo, which is the practice by which a smaller or weaker person can overcome a bigger or stronger person. The person who is more deficient, out of necessity, has more incentive to develop their core structure of behaviors as well as the sensitivity and flexibility by which they can improvise.

For aikido people, the danger is overly cooperative and desensitized peers that help to ignore their deficiencies. Enabling ignorance by providing comfort is not the community support being discussed here.

Improvisation is rule-governed in some cases, but moderately so. It is a flexible practice that sees rules as elastic. Improv is serviceable rather than optimal. … The point is that improvisational manoeuvres already exist within a system of received conventions, and only experience can help you decide to respect or ignore them.

Failing is a major aspect of improvisation. Failure is the thing we learn from, so it’s the cornerstone of productive experience. Aristotle described improvisational decision-making as ‘practical reason’, distinct from rule-following logic. He says that young people can become experts in geometry, maths and similar branches of knowledge, but we don’t usually consider a young person to have good improvisational skills. ‘The reason is that [practical reason] includes a knowledge of particular facts, and this is derived from experience, which a young person does not possess; for experience is the fruit of years.’ …

Ultimately, improvising is a form of receptivity to experience, and also a behavioural style based upon that experience. It evolved as part of our cognitive operating system to make good use of available resources. It is a fundamental inheritance, emerging out of our primate evolution. But the narcissistic improviser and the inexperienced improviser – so popular these days in politics and celebrity culture – leaps tragically into delicate situations with no plans, practice, tact or ability to read the room. That is an improvising ape of an altogether different kind.

Kinds of strength

August 30, 2017

At a recent roundtable discussion, someone mentioned that they thought that it was crucial for uke to always be giving energy to the nage. Uke should not emphasize just being there to fall down or have their posture broken. Often in aikido there is confusion between the two, with most people expecting the uke to be someone who falls down regardless of what happens, and by extension, if they continue an effort to stand back up, they are being antisocial and difficult.

In Endo sensei’s seminar classes, he often has uke use one or two hands to grab and raise the nage’s arm up. Nage then practices how to extend the arm downward. Even here, the behavior of uke seems to be interpreted in two ways. In one, uke continues to give energy, whether like a strongly flowing current or less strongly. When nage extends the arm downward, uke may allow their posture to be broken, but the priority is to continue to extend upward or return to how they were initially. In the other interpretation, uke raises the nage’s arm up and tries to remain fixed there. There is no more effort to raise the arm up. When nage begins to extend the arm down, uke 1) has no ability to regulate their effort to maintain the initial state strongly or less strongly, and 2) if nage starts to succeed at lowering the arm and accordingly uke’s posture starts to break, uke still does not extend any energy toward nage – they only try to stop the process of their posture breaking. This effort to stop can include using bursts of effort, repositioning, and changing the connection i.e., grab. All of these changes make the partnered, agreed-upon practice difficult.

There is no clear line between the first and second interpretations. This lends itself to confusion between the two kinds of strength, or the two kinds of challenge nage encounters as they try to lower the arm.

As nage, it is important to discern between the two kinds of challenge as one may waste effort trying to make something impossible happen, or make something improbable happen smoothly or quickly. Also, the effort toward the first goal can be all-captivating, but when one notices one is dealing with the second kind of strength, one can remember there are other goals. The first effort doesn’t need to be completed. The more important thing is that one can still be available for other efforts and goals.

As uke, it is important to discern between the two kinds of strength because the objective is different. It is nonsensical to devote a significant effort toward something one doesn’t even understand, particularly when that something seems to interfere with the partner’s learning. Also, as uke, one is continually experiencing having one’s posture broken yet somehow being available to the nage partner for it to continue happening or happen again and again. The process that uke is undergoing is being disrupted yet not disrupting oneself i.e., receiving and mediating nage’s efforts to disrupt/break posture. This mediating process is the crucial piece. It is not just about receiving nage’s efforts and energy, but how one is receiving it and interacting with it. The interaction is quite spontaneous and vague, so the objective is all the more important. Should the uke be trying to insulate oneself from any of nage’s efforts? Should uke be nakedly open to all of nage’s efforts? The answer is somewhere in between, but hard to define, since in words it is to end up having one’s posture broken and falling down, yet not make it excessively easy to do so.

Curiosity / 気づくこと

August 29, 2017

Curiosity / 気づくこと (kizukukoto). The tendency or inclination to notice things, and the relevance to luxury services, as mentioned in the article, as analogous to very fine individual “fitting”, a salient feature of budo. In the context of an organization, this kind of curiosity behavior being encouraged, rewarded, and normalized is crucial for leadership to do.


Businesses design standard processes to make sure they get good ratings by checking all the boxes on the agencies’ lists. These ratings are then used by company marketing departments to impress customers, thereby driving volume and revenue. These ratings cannot be ignored. Get a bad one, and your competition will use it to sell against you.

However, trying to provide luxury service by implementing standardized processes that will ensure compliance, with checklists designed by third parties that do not know your business as you do, will inevitably fail to address individual customer needs. These kinds of checklists address the fundamentals of good service — but meeting the requirements of the ratings agencies with standardized processes will inevitably disappoint the individual that you, as a luxury business, most need.

Catering to the individual is what defines luxury; in the luxury segment, it is the critical competitive differentiator. The challenge for any business seeking to deliver a luxury experience is to be knowledgeable enough to go beyond the standard, to have hair spray for the person who needs it whether or not it’s on a checklist.

Curiosity is a quality we look for — and hire for — in staff. Without curious employees asking questions and listening to guests, we can’t get the information to build future dossiers: “What brings you to the hotel?” “What can we do to make your stay enjoyable?” And we reward employees who engage, making their successes part of our hotel’s oral culture.

“They were not authentic, but they were sincere”

August 29, 2017

IT was going to be the biggest presentation of my life — my first appearance on the TED Conference main stage — and I had already thrown out seven drafts. Searching for a new direction, I asked colleagues and friends for suggestions. “The most important thing,” the first one said, “is to be yourself.” The next six people I asked gave me the same tip.

We are in the Age of Authenticity, where “be yourself” is the defining advice in life, love and career. Authenticity means erasing the gap between what you firmly believe inside and what you reveal to the outside world.

But for most people, “be yourself” is actually terrible advice.

A decade ago, the author A. J. Jacobs spent a few weeks trying to be totally authentic. He announced to an editor that he would try to sleep with her if he were single and informed his nanny that he would like to go on a date with her if his wife left him. He informed a friend’s 5-year-old daughter that the beetle in her hands was not napping but dead. He told his in-laws that their conversation was boring. You can imagine how his experiment worked out.

How much you aim for authenticity depends on a personality trait called self-monitoring. If you’re a high self-monitor, you’re constantly scanning your environment for social cues and adjusting accordingly. You hate social awkwardness and desperately want to avoid offending anyone.

But if you’re a low self-monitor, you’re guided more by your inner states, regardless of your circumstances. In one fascinating study, when a steak landed on their plates, high self-monitors tasted it before pouring salt, whereas low self-monitors salted it first. As the psychologist Brian Littleexplains, “It is as though low self-monitors know their salt personalities very well.”

Low self-monitors criticize high self-monitors as chameleons and phonies. They’re right that there’s a time and place for authenticity. Some preliminary research suggests that low self-monitors tend to have happier marriages and lower odds of divorce. With your romantic partner, being authentic might lead to a more genuine connection (unless your name is A. J. Jacobs).

But in the rest of our lives, we pay a price for being too authentic. High self-monitors advance faster and earn higher status, in part because they’re more concerned about their reputations. And while that would seem to reward self-promoting frauds, these high self-monitors spend more time finding out what others need and helping them. In a comprehensive analysis of 136 studies of more than 23,000 employees, high self-monitors received significantly higher evaluations and were more likely to be promoted into leadership positions.

Children who see abilities as fixed give up after failure; managers who believe talent is fixed fail to coach their employees. “As we strive to improve our game, a clear and firm sense of self is a compass that helps us navigate choices and progress toward our goals,” Herminia Ibarra, a professor of organizational behavior at the business school Insead, notes. “When we’re looking to change our game, a too rigid self-concept becomes an anchor that keeps us from sailing forth.”

If not our authentic selves, what should we be striving to reach? Decades ago, the literary critic Lionel Trilling gave us an answer that sounds very old-fashioned to our authentic ears: sincerity. Instead of searching for our inner selves and then making a concerted effort to express them, Trilling urged us to start with our outer selves. Pay attention to how we present ourselves to others, and then strive to be the people we claim to be.

Rather than changing from the inside out, you bring the outside in.

When Dr. Ibarra studied consultants and investment bankers, she found that high self-monitors were more likely than their authentic peers to experiment with different leadership styles. They watched senior leaders in the organization, borrowed their language and action, and practiced them until these became second nature. They were not authentic, but they were sincere. It made them more effective.

Next time people say, “just be yourself,” stop them in their tracks. No one wants to hear everything that’s in your head. They just want you to live up to what comes out of your mouth.


May 19, 2017

I still have the view that aikido can make the world a better place by its opportunity to cultivate more centered, aware, and peaceful/confident people. However it’s been a continuous concern of mine to see such a proportion of people doing aikido who are insular and isolated, staying within their aikido world, people who have never felt “aiki” and cannot fathom what it feels like other than to experience more strength or pain or fear, and people who are strongly attached to the “lower” concerns of other martial arts, mainly the issue of, is it effective. As for aikido resulting in people making the world a better place, I think it’s the people who overcome the above challenges who will build bridges and communicate and develop relationships with the “other” people.

I recently read an article with a section that put quite clearly what I think is a growing modern problem: miscommunication.


The argument that’s most convincing to you is not convincing to your ideological opponents

There’s a dynamic playing out in the current health care debate, and in health care debates of ages past. Liberals make their arguments for expanding coverage in terms of equality and fairness (i.e., everyone should have a right to health care), while conservatives make their case grounded in self-determination (i.e., the government shouldn’t tell me how to live) and fiscal security (i.e., paying for health care will bankrupt us all).

…Moral foundations explain why messages highlighting equality and fairness resonate with liberals and why more patriotic messages like “make America great again” get some conservative hearts pumping.

The thing is, we often don’t realize that people have moral foundations different than our own.

When we engage in political debates, we all tend to overrate the power of arguments we find personally convincing — and wrongly think the other side will be swayed.

On gun control, for instance, liberals are persuaded by stats like, “No other developed country in the world has nearly the same rate of gun violence as does America.” And they think other people will find this compelling, too.

Conservatives, meanwhile, often go to this formulation: “The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

What both sides fail to understand is that they’re arguing a point that their opponents may be inherently deaf to.

It’s very hard for a person to not say what he/she thinks is fundamentally important. It’s hard to talk from a place that is not your core common sense. I think it takes people who are very self-aware (to notice that this is the situation they face), very adaptable, unfettered, and unattached, not to mention clever (to communicate and relate in a way that is likely not easy or natural), and proactive (to take the trouble to communicate and build relationships rather than being reticent and “just leaving other people be”).

There was another blog post that resonated and connected these particular dots for me that I’m writing about here.


It Is Very Compelling To Be Pulled Into An Opponent’s Strength.

When invited to spar, inevitably we are being invited to spar on the terms of the inviter, and there is a very insidious and compelling force that draws us into doing so without critically examining what is happening. Unfortunately, this same thing happens when we get drawn into online (or in-person) debates about the merits of various martial arts; we start using the terminology of the person on the other side of the debate, and measuring our art against what they value and easily understand while simultaneously forgetting what is important about Aikido.

Sometimes we find the lure of defending our art in these online debates irresistible, because we hold in our most secret of hearts a deep insecurity about what we have been taught, and whether or not we could “measure up” if we had to. “How dare you impugn my training!” I think it’s important to be aware of our motivations for responding to debate; Aikido doesn’t need to be defended on this front, and if we were truly confident in our training and convictions, we wouldn’t feel the need to be defensive. It’s up to us to discover if we have that insecurity, and as Saotome Sensei said, “go out and fix it.”

In the above excerpt, we see the opposite phenomenon. Instead of overly operating from his own “common sense”, he overly adopts the other persons’. I think both result from insecurity and becoming perturbed. I would also imagine that overly staying in your own common sense is easier and feels more secure. The sensation of familiarity being confused with security is something that I think the practice of budo gives us the opportunity to face and overcome.

The above excerpt’s author relates some ways that he tried to bridge the gap with some disparaging MMA people. One way was to show a fast randori with shinai.

By showing one of the strengths of Aikido, it removed the visitors disrespect of Aikido.

But in these episodes that he relates, his goals were to shut up the other people’s disparaging comments and convince those MMA visitors that Aikido wasn’t worthless, while displaying some level of adherence to aikido. However he slightly contradicts himself in his conclusion, which is that aikido is about life itself, not just the practice on the mat. The fruits of one’s aikido practice in that case are harder to show to a skeptic as resulting from the aikido practice.

And in the author’s earlier experiments relating with the disparaging MMA people, in doing aikido technique, he “generally succeeded” but didn’t convince them that aikido wasn’t worthless. That is, he showed them some proof that he probably thought was important enough to be convincing at the time, yet they weren’t convinced.

From yet another blog, this time responding to the question, how will I know what “aiki” looks and feels like when I encounter it?


Real Aiki looks fake, and fake Aiki looks fake. So which one is which?

What does one feel for in person? The feeling of Aiki! It is a feeling different from the overcoming of resistance with force. And it is a feeling different from the overcoming of resistance through technique (usually leverage, timing, and/or psychological manipulation). It is the feeling on behalf of the non-Aiki person of full physical effort, with the result of no sense of resistance, no expected outcome, and no proper explanation for what is occurring.

I think the author is describing some very high level of aiki. For those with “just” medium level, then the non-aiki person probably feels some muscle power and resistance.

In my experience, presuming that I’m somewhere between low and high level of aiki, the other person often interprets what they feel as only muscle power. There is no convincing based on what they feel, no puzzled headshaking. I think there are a number of factors at play, none of which can be isolated and defined. But it comes down to one person having an imperfect way of expressing something and the other person having a set, assimilating way of taking in experience.

The easy question that has popped into mind long ago for me was, in order to convince the other person, do I need to do some highly painful, highly muscular technique? I actually have done that and the other persons universally are not won over, suddenly full of praise. On my side, it does not feel good or right to express myself in that way.

There is no magic silver bullet that will work in all cases and with all people. However I’m currently thinking, regarding communication with people who have fundamentally different perspectives: it’s important to stop wasting effort as early as possible continuing to express what’s important to oneself if that doesn’t click with the other person – it’s simply ego and attachment to continue; it requires cleverness and inventiveness to think up ways that might possibly click with the other person; it requires compromise and flexibility to express oneself in ways that are not fully in line with one’s usual, familiar mode. Finally, it requires conviction and persistence. One cannot always be expressing oneself with the aim of convincing another person. That would be reactive. (And of course, being talked to as “one of those ‘other’ people” never feels good.) If one can continually and consistently express themselves as they really are, in a way that is not narrow but more and more expansive and variable, then one is likely increase the probability of clicking with those “other” people.


August 19, 2016