Pattern Recognition vs. Gut Instinct vs. Mood Affiliation vs. Tribe Affiliation


If I had to pinpoint the reason why people make poor decisions (myself included), I would probably put mood affiliation and tribe affiliation at the top.

All of this got me thinking of a taxonomy of sorts for quick decision making, none of which is terribly novel, but which might be of interest, as it both impacts leadership and education policy, two topics covered often on this blog.

Some definitions:

Pattern Recognition: Pattern recognition occurs when you make a decision, often without deliberate reflection, because something in your subconscious recognizes the situation, as well as the best way forward. Often, the decision is made through an emotional response – something “feels right” or “feels wrong.” Ideally, pattern recognition is built upon years of experience with the pattern at hand, so it can be a very effective way to make decisions.

Gut Instinct: I view gut instinct (there might be a better name for it), as following the exact same process as above without the foundation of historical experience. In short, it’s an emotional response triggered by a novel situation. Often times, this is a terrible way to make a decision, with the only exception perhaps being a situation that is novel to you but not novel to your ancestors, so the instinct might be hardcoded in your DNA.

Mood Affiliation: Mood affiliation occurs when you have an emotional reaction to an idea (rather than a situation) – and then you either supper or reject the idea based on how the idea makes you feel. Mood affiliation has numerous triggers: a writer’s tone or language; the idea being similar to other ideas you also support; the idea fitting into the identity you have created for yourself. Instead of analyzing the idea on the merits, you accept or reject the idea based on how it makes you feel.

Tribe Affiliation: Tribe affiliation is similar to mood affiliation, but more narrowly defined. Tribe affiliation is born out of a desire of wanting to belong to a group, with ideas being accepted or rejected based on the group’s opinion of the idea, rather than any individual analysis.

In sum: pattern recognition is a good heuristic, while gut instinct, mood affiliation, and tribe affiliation are not.

Personally, mood affiliation is the one I struggle with the most. When I read something positive about charter school, immigration, or driverless cars, my mood elevates. This is clearly dangerous, as it prevents me from soberly analyzing the issue at hand.

I find that twitter is basically live streaming mood affiliation, while blogging, at its best, allows for more reflective analysis.

So be careful out there.

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