Conceptual systems and the experience kit are must for decision-making, as this is the key to survival
It is natural for people to try to understand anything they are faced with. It can be a person, a situation or an experience. If we cannot respond to a situation in an organised fashion we tend to invent a framework for understanding or simply withdraw. Thus, it is important to recognise that concepts are necessary to understand a situation. Relationships between concepts constitute a conceptual system. In fact, information on a concept calls for a whole network of expectations on the fundamental elements of a situation. Meeting with a “nobody” on the streets cannot be equated to meeting an unknown person who is known to be socially powerful. Clearly, expectations are different in the two situations so the behaviour is modulated. The challenge most people have is that of never having learnt “how to think.” It never formed a part of their curriculum and not many people are able to achieve it on their own. Concepts often acquire a value and can evoke sensory images. One relates to them positively or negatively.
Without becoming esoteric, the pandemic is a perfect example. The number of concepts floating around Corona is amazingly large. Almost everything related to it evokes different emotions in people. Each one quotes from what they find to be a part of their experience. What is the scale and intensity of transference of the virus from surface to surface? How often does one wash one’s hands or should one just disinfect? Should the vaccine be taken by those who are on blood thinners? How vulnerable are children to exposure to the virus? The questions are endless. The response is limited to the limited domain and reach of the individual. So it is that most thinking individuals write their own script of precautions. It is here that one realises that many dimensions of several concepts are oversimplified. People talk of concepts as being good or bad; easy or complicated. The simple truth is that stable, widely subscribed concepts take time to emerge and crystallise.
Simply a year of experience of Covid-19 and the reaction of a few million people is not a sample size big enough for concepts to have formed and crystallised. Thus it is that thinking trips up experience. A feeling of comfort, safety and surety seems elusive. The smart make money out of such a situation, the weak keep hanging by a straw. There are no easy answers. Yet, human tendency is to organise the world according to dyadic concepts or categories: Is this action safe or unsafe? Is this situation good or bad? It is here that stereotypes determine expectations. One lives not only on hope but on expectations of the results of one’s action. Illustratively, one can be loving and committed in a relationship. If the focus of affection does not believe in this, the other person could feel let down. It can and does happen all the time. At the end of the day even if love is reciprocated, the intensity and timing may not be congruent for both the parties. The ability to put the brakes on, remodulate and if need be, begin again is not as common as it ought to be. Again, for this there is no training or formal orientation, save through the difficult “schooling of experience.” The bigger tragedy is that many ignore or distort information which does not fit in their conceptual system. The tragedy becomes larger because many do not realise that personal values are attached to our conceptual system. This has two implications, both for competence and experience. Competence helps us to operate in the world. Experience gives accuracy to the conceptual system. Sadly, competence and experience can tie each other in knots, if the person is deficient in a “sense of balance” or agility to cope with the routine. That is simultaneously the joy and challenge of human life. Conceptual systems and the experience kit are must for decision-making as this ability remains the key to survival itself.
(The writer is an internationally acclaimed management consultant. The views expressed are personal.)