The Elephant in the Brain: Hidden Motives in Everyday Life

Author: Robin Hanson, Visit Amazon's Robin Hanson Pagesearch resultsLearn about Author CentralRobin Hanson
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by BurningFrog   2020-08-21
Yeah, this is just how the human brain works.

The big thing to understand is that we lie about these things to ourselves, so we can easier lie about them to others. Unconscious parts of your brain lies to the conscious part!!

I learned this here:

by BurningFrog   2020-02-03
One realization that's helped me a lot:

Yes, people talking self serving nonsense are lying. But they're primarily lying to themselves!!!

Essential book:

TED talk version:

by coffeemug   2018-09-20
I'm unlikely to write a book, but here are a few more tidbits that come to mind.

Re the above -- I don't mean to imply that any of this is malicious or even conscious on anyone's behalf. I suspect it is for a few people, but I bet most people could pass a lie detector test that they care about their OKRs and the OKRs of their reports. They really, really believe it. But they don't act it. Our brains are really good at fooling us! I used to think that corporate politics is a consequence of malevolent actors. That might be true to some degree, but mostly politics just arises. People overtly profess whatever they need to overtly profess, and then go on to covertly follow emergent incentives. Lots of misunderstandings happen that way -- if you confront them about a violation of an agreement (say, during performance reviews), they'll be genuinely surprised and will invent really good reasons for everything (other than the obvious one, of course). It's basically watching Elephant In The Brain[1] play out right in front of your eyes.

Every manager wants to grow their team so they can split it into multiple teams so they can say they ran a group.

When there is a lot of money involved, people self-select into your company who view their jobs as basically to extract as much money as possible. This is especially true at the higher rungs. VP of marketing? Nope, professional money extractor. VP of engineering? Nope, professional money extractor too. You might think -- don't hire them. You can't! It doesn't matter how good the founders are, these people have spent their entire lifetimes perfecting their veneer. At that level they're the best in the world at it. Doesn't matter how good the founders are, they'll self select some of these people who will slip past their psychology. You might think -- fire them. Not so easy! They're good at embedding themselves into the org, they're good at slipping past the founders's radars, and they're high up so half their job is recruiting. They'll have dozens of cronies running around your company within a month or two.

From the founders's perspective the org is basically an overactive genie. It will do what you say, but not what you mean. Want to increase sales in two quarters? No problem, sales increased. Oh, and we also subtly destroyed our customers's trust. Once the steaks are high, founders basically have to treat their org as an adversarial agent. You might think -- but a good founder will notice! Doesn't matter how good you are -- you've selected world class politicians that are good at getting past your exact psychological makeup. Anthropic principle!

There's lots of stuff like this that you'd never think of in a million years, but is super-obvious once you've experienced it. And amazingly, in spite of all of this (or maybe because of it?) everything still works!