TMI and the Secret behind Great Questions

When is added information bad for you?

We've all had the experience of listening to an acquaintance or work colleague divulge something that makes us uncomfortable or, in those very special cases, looking for the nearest exit. We'll figuratively throw up our hands or mentally tune out the chatter because there's little we can do with what we've been told other than to question why it was divulged in the first place.

Shane Parrish went to the question of information utility in a post at Farnam Street last Friday, "More information might not improve your ability to make decisions." I think he touches on an important dimension of decision making that is too often overlooked.

The more we look for new rationale to make decisions, the further we are from understanding. The harder we look, the more we’ll find. The more we find, the more we’ll mis-weigh what we find. The more we mis-weigh, the more likely we are to make a poor decision.

So the next time you find yourself seeking out hard-to-find esoteric information to give yourself an edge in that important decision, think hard about whether you understand the fundamentals of the situation. The more esoteric information you seek the further you move from the likely variables that will govern the outcomes of the situation.

As Parrish points out, looking for "a new rationale' when we're certain that an answer, the answer, is there waiting to be discovered, should tip us off that perhaps our understanding of the problem is wrong. Why? Because information is never perfect or complete, and we only have control over the questions we ask, not the answers we get. Genuine questions call on us to check and recheck our assumptions.

They call on us to accept risk.


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