10 Years Later, Still, Not Many Are Asking, "Why?"
Almost ten years ago I wrote a blog post about an issue in the neurobiology of addiction and depression. I found it the other day, and when I re-read it, I'm filled with a great sense of sadness. It's been 10 years, and I'm hearing the same things I heard then. Not much has changed, and still no one is asking, "Why?"
In case you're interested here's a screen shot of the original post. If you want to skip the neurobiology, just take my word for it.
This isn't an isolated instance. I hear this phenomenon all the time. "We have a big problem with drugs, don't ask why, just get rid of the drugs." "Our sales are down, don't ask why, just increase the marketing spend." "The bed census in our treatment unit is down, don't ask why, just keep people longer." You know I could go on and on.
I had a boss once who was very intuitive and very smart. Every time someone brought him a problem he immediately knew what to do. It was terrible. A colleague said about him, "He has 10 ideas a day, 2 of them are right, and he acts on all of them." The boss never took the time to check his intuition. He had been very successful in his life. He could name a number of categories in which he was the first, best, or only person to have done something. He was quite well off. So he had no reason to doubt his intuition. He had no reason to believe that his first idea to solve the problem wasn't the right one. Whenever someone brought him a problem, he never asked why the problem existed. He just "fixed" it. And he never understood why things got worse.
Eventually systems get rid of people like that, because they eventually fail. They get more and more responsibility until, one day, they have been promoted beyond their ability to handle a system, and they fail. This is a huge waste of talent. When you think about it, the organization has spent decades getting the person to that position, and then they waste the effort. Why do organizations act that way? Because they don't ask why.
We promote those who are successful. We promote those that succeed. We don't ask why they succeeded. Was it luck? Did they succeed while doing the wrong thing? Did they succeed at a hidden high cost that we can't afford later? We don't ask. We just do the easy thing and promote those who succeed, hoping they'll do it again.
I know a lot of people who trade stocks. I know some who are very successful, and I know some who are not. The successful ones focus on the system, not the outcome. They never decide if a trade was right because they made money. They think the trade was right if they stuck to their system. The worst thing that could happen to them is to make money going outside their system. They, like all of us, feel the temptation to do again what just "worked." But they know that the system is well tested and will work over time. When they follow the "win," they lose.
I wish more people I have worked for understood stock trading. I wish more had understood systems. But it's probably too much to hope for. We think magical thinking ends around age 7, but as a psychiatrist who has treated addiction, been on boards of directors for both profit and non-profit organizations and served in the military, I can tell you, magical thinking never ends. Not until we make it end by checking our intuition with logical processes.