An essay on Bounded Rationality

Great perspective Manju! This touches upon many of the internal conflicts that I have faced while navigating my workplace. This is even more apparent in Western culture which hero worships individual achievements and people who are endlessly self-assured and stridently opinionated. Too often the wrong versions of these qualities are ascribed to leadership.

All that being said, I don’t think that assertiveness and uncertainty are mutually exclusive traits and I do think that they can be reconciled without one being intellectually dishonest.

I would never advocate being assertive with regards to objective pursuits and scientific inquiry. The very nature of the discipline is based on the scientific method where a hypothesis is discarded if the evidence doesn’t support it. History has shown that most good scientists have been humble enough to discard their beliefs when the empirical data proved otherwise.

Where I think it becomes less clear is with respect to subjective discussions and matters dealing with society and human characteristics and behavior.

I’ve seen that some form of assertiveness brings a sense of agency and urgency to complex situations where there isn’t always a right answer as there is in science. I‘ve also seen people being outwardly assertive in situations where they genuinely think they are taking the best decision at that time given the information at hand. However, they have been inwardly open to change their stance if some new data is presented. I think that such an approach is an effective application of bounded rationality. It helps move the situation forward and might even be a desirable trait where failing fast and learning is the only way to tackle a complex real-world situation. Moreover, I’ve found that a large number of people sadly do not want to take on the intellectual burden of rational thought and are happy to listen to a slightly more self-assured person. Here again, assertiveness moves the situation forward.

Regarding your statement that “rationality and intuition converge at the speed of thought”, I am in complete agreement with you there and think they are inextricably connected. There are some great books that make this exact observation and describe the dichotomy of decision making based on the two systems of thought and in which situations you should rely on intuition and in which you should rely on rational thinking. They even address how rational thinking can be converted to intuition by practice and repetition. If you haven’t read them you will really enjoy Thinking, Fast and Slow and Blink.

In conclusion, I believe that we are really complex beings in a really complex and ever changing world where one has to wrangle not only with science and nature but also with human society and its inherent foibles. The only thing that we are measured by is the output we produce and the value we provide to others with that output. To that end, some form of assertiveness (while being self-aware and battling one’s own cognitive biases) is quite important in producing some output and being an agent of progress.