I have previously explained my thoughts on meta-competence and its importance, but I have rarely dedicated time toward -improving- my own admittedly extremely poor meta-competence.
how do i know i have poor meta-competence? I fell in love with finance in 2004-6, just before its peak, and then dedicated the next 10 years to moving up within finance instead of seeing how finance was shrinking and ossifying. Ted Seides this week conceded his bet with Buffett but still did not learn his lesson:
In the vein of this I was struck this week by a throwaway discussion within the Freakonomics podcast:
where the guest briefly entertained the thought of the “pessimistic meta-induction”. You should listen to the podcast to understand what it means but here is my plain english explanation in syllogisms:
- Scientific theories are falsifiable models.
- Scientific theories aren’t proven to be true; the only scientific theories that currently remain are ones that haven’t yet been proven false.
- Things we think to be true (especially complex science such as internal medicine and environmental science, or even social “science”) are often proven false (e.g. in medical school they tell you that by the time you graduate 50% of the stuff you learn will be wrong, they just don’t know which 50%)
- It is irrational if not harmful to act based on theories that are likely to be false anyway.
- It is irrational to act on scientific theories.
I went a little extreme on framing the apotheosis but you get the idea of why the guest termed it the “pessimistic meta-induction”. I also commented that this was likely an error made in the logical flow particularly in stage 3 and 4 of the chain.
It is important to understand what to do when you are wrong. The first step is, of course, to admit it. As Keynes supposedly said, when accused of being a flip flopper: “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do?” A metals analyst at Macquarie did just that this week when he reversed an upgrade within the span of 4 days:
But the second order implications of being wrong are even more important. I am calling this Meta-cognition for the time being (yes, it is an established word, but I am not sure it means what I want it to mean so I am being cautious). In plain English, it means understanding the biases and flaws that made you make the mistake in the first place. When the mistake is in the area of raw competence, this is easily addressed by referring to guides, helpfiles and mentors. When the mistake is in the area of meta-competence, the examination must turn inward.
An exercise in this came from a very unlikely source this week, three white guys discussing diversity in tech:
Diversity discussions are usually unintelligent and obsess with numbers instead of outcomes but when the focus is on outcomes there are real prospects of fixing the metacompetence gap revealed by the mistake.
The Weekly LOL
NPR’s AMA series turns 5 this week and they are the most consistent source of laughs on my podcast playlist!