Someone is WRONG on the Internet!

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In previous issues, we looked at biases like solution aversion and the objective paradox that can derail attempts to break smart. Continuing with that theme, here's another big one: being unable to listen to people who disagree strongly with you. This is an especially strong force on the Internet and can severely limit the value you get out of being online, as this great xkcd strip suggests. The key to cultivating this ability is an idea called Miller's Law.

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Miller's Law 1950s Organization Kids versus 2015 Tiger Kids. Illustration by Grace Witherell.

1/ The parable of the three blind people and the elephant is deeper than it looks.

2/ In complex systems, there often IS no elephant. Or what is almost the same thing, no sighted people.

3/ To navigate, you must be able to switch perspectives fluidly. Most people think of this as an emotional intelligence skill.

4/ They think it is about cultivating empathy, learn non-violent communication and active listening.

5/ These behaviors create harmony, but harmony is neither sufficient, nor necessary for complex-system comprehension.

6/ Comprehension involves either harmonizing truths (not people's relationships) or proving one side wrong.

7/ For comprehension, you need to reconstruct others' mental models, and a principle called Miller's Law helps do that

8/ It states: "To understand what another person is saying, you must assume that it is true and try to imagine what it could be true of."

9/ The computing metaphor of running a "virtual machine" of the other person's mental model in your brain shows why this is hard.

10/ You must have enough room (an "open mind") and preferably, a faster "processor" than theirs.

11/ The high cost of doing this means you should only do it when you suspect the other person is not just bullshitting, trolling or lying.

12/ Frankfurt's definition of bullshit, as the utterances of someone who is indifferent to truth rather than lying, fits neatly here.

13/ With bullshit -- and there's a lot online --  Miller's Law does not apply. There is nothing the other person even WANTS to speak truths about.

14/ Liars and trolls are also not worth a Miller's Law effort. I'll leave you to think about troll and lie detection for yourself.

15/ Once you eliminate bullshitters, trolls and liars, you are left with sincere people who believe they are right.

16/ Your job is to either get their truths to harmonize with yours, prove yourself wrong, or prove them wrong.

17/ Only the first goal is truly interesting for Miller's Law. If you suspect only one of you is right, it's a zero-sum debate about a non-complex system.

18/ To get truths, rather than people, to live together in harmony, you can use either a fox or hedgehog strategy.

19/ The fox strategy is to simply learn when to apply each truth. A hedgehog strategy is to seek a Grand Unified Theory.

20/ Either way, the job is one of constructing a mental model that is intelligible to you, out of the data that is the other person's view

21/ There are no formulas for this, but there ARE three handy rules of thumb that prevent 80% of Miller's Law failures.

22/ First, resist an attribution error where you prematurely conclude the other person is just biased and generalizing from their own experience.

23/ The second is to be sure to translate across the greatest divide in emulating other minds: moral reasoning versus logical reasoning.

24/ The third is the simplest yet most violated: factoring out dislike. We easily assume somebody is wrong just because we dislike them.

25/ If this sounds like a lot of work, you're right. But it's worth it. I believe a high-effort Miller's Law application is at the root of many great relationships.

26/ This is especially true on the Internet, with it's currently low emoji-fidelity relationship support capabilities, based 90% on text.

27/ As YouTube comments show, most people utterly fail to develop quality relationships on the Internet.

28/ But a minority not only succeeds, but often creates far richer relationships online than offline.

29/ This minority enjoys a very powerful edge over those who are not skilled enough at Miller's Law to thrive online.

30/ Miller's Law blackbelts in healthy online forums tend to be 6-12 months ahead of the curve in their fields.

31/ The situation awareness edge may seem small, but it compounds over time to create a vast lead in mental model sophistication.

32/ As our worlds shift increasingly to online streams, your fate might very well rest on your ability to create such a lead.

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_Check out Breaking Smart Season 1 for the deeper context behind this newsletter. If you're interested in bringing the Season 1 workshop to your organization, get in touch. You can follow me on Twitter @vgr

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