from Marketing Memetics, by Michael Taylor
I have a friend who likes to read and is interested in history. She is kind, helpful and organized. What’s more likely – is she a Doctor or a Librarian? Most people associate her characteristics with Librarians, but they’re wrong. There are 5-20 times more Doctors than Librarians, so she’s far more likely to be a bookish Doctor. In choosing Librarian, based on the ‘memes’ of that profession, we’re committing what Kahneman calls ‘base rate neglect’.
We can’t get through our day without generalizations – it’d be like navigating without a map. “A map is not the territory” as Korzybski says, but “if correct, it has a similar structure to the territory, which accounts for its usefulness”. When memes get divorced from reality, they cease being useful. Feynman wrote of Cargo Cults – islanders saw airplanes deliver supplies during the war, so they “arranged to make things like runways, to put fires along the sides of the runways, to make a wooden hut for a man to sit in, with two wooden pieces on his head like headphones and bars of bamboo sticking out like antennas” – they’re doing all the right things, but no airplanes land.
Munger calls this ‘chauffeur’ knowledge, after Max Planck’s chauffeur, who was able to stand in for Planck having memorized his lectures, until asked a question. Copying is a necessary first step in learning something new, according to the Dreyfus model, but most people stop there. Do the work to gain a first-principles understanding, and you’ll spot opportunities where incumbents are using an outdated map.
Base rate neglect and why do we fall for it?
First Principles: Elon Musk on the Power of Thinking for Yourself
Richard Feynman, 1974 Caltech Commencement Address
The Step-by-Step Guide to Go From Novice to Expert in Any Skill
The Two Types of Knowledge: The Max Planck/Chauffeur Test
Thinking Fast and Slow, Kahneman