Bias, Mushin and the Intersection of Judgment and Intelligence

Bias, Mushin and the Intersection of Judgment and Intelligence

“What gets us into trouble is not what we don’t know. It’s what we know for sure that just ain’t so.” – Mark Twain

I hope this blog finds you and those close to you safe and well.

These are challenging times, and I thought I would attempt to tie in current events, Covid-19 and protests, with combat martial arts concepts and yes of course, corrosion mitigation.

I’m not quite sure yet how I’m going to get there – that is, tie them all together, but I know that I have the tools to do so.

Now that I’ve shared with you my goal and outlined the broad path we’ll be taking to the mountaintop; I invite you to grab a cup of your favorite beverage and come with me on our little journey.

I will try to be brief, or at least entertaining.

To be fully transparent, this is my second blog on the same topic; the first was far too long and detailed.

This will be much shorter. You’re welcome!

I’m hoping that we can all agree that judgment, that is, making good decisions, is really, really important. I would argue it’s the most important thing that anyone can learn, and I feel adamant about it; I’m writing a book on the subject which will be released this summer.

Let’s briefly outline the issues associated with current events:

  1. Covid-19: Do we wear masks? If so, when, and what kind? Do we go out? If so, where, and when? When we go shopping, do we stay 6’ away from others? Do we wash our fruit and vegetables and if so, with what and for how long? Our President uses and supports the use of hydroxychloroquine to prevent getting the virus, while studies have shown it to be ineffective and even perhaps dangerous. What to do?
  2. Protests: Watching the video of George Floyd was heart wrenching for me, and everyone else. I have no words to describe the horror and injustice of it, and amid the national outcry, there is controversy. Are all police officers “bad”? Are our institutions biased, either consciously or unconsciously?

What about our society as a whole? Are there vestiges of bias within all of us, that we are unaware of, or in some cases, aware of that we choose to not modify? How do we choose to act and what position should we take in the face of conflicting viewpoints?

These two sets of issues have common characteristics:

  • They both have tons of confusing, and often conflicting data.
  • They are emotionally charged.
  • Intelligent people have differing points of view.
  • They require us to exercise our own judgement, in terms of how we choose to respond.

How are we, as individuals, supposed to make sense of confusing and often conflicting data, and manifest good judgment in order to make good decisions?

Let’s touch on corrosion mitigation.

(How am I doing so far?)

In order for corrosion to take place, you’ll need four things:

  1. Anode – which naturally exists on all metallic surfaces.
  2. Cathode- which also naturally exists on all metallic surfaces.
  3. Metallic Pathway – the metal itself (upon which the cathode and anode live).
  4. Electrolyte – typically water or humidity.

The only one of the four, however, that you can really remove is #4 – the electrolyte. The water. Keep water and humidity away from metals and they will never corrode. Ever.

By analogy, picture you’re sheltered in place. Your home or apartment is a piece of metal – the metallic pathway. You have two teenagers, one in each bedroom. They’re fine as long as their apart, but when you throw a frozen pizza in the oven and sit down to watch TV, and they can’t agree on a show, there’s chaos.

One kid is an anode, the other cathode. The house is the metallic pathway and the pizza the electrolyte.

Take away the pizza, and there’s bliss in the home – no arguing.

With corrosion, take away any of those four things and corrosion stops. Simple? No.

Yet billions of dollars are wasted every year on sub-standard corrosion mitigation practices.

Fixing problems, and evaluating the best course of action after a failure, caused by well-intended, highly-intelligent people who make sub-optimal decisions, is a large part of what Chicago Corrosion Group does

Why is it so hard to get corrosion mitigation right?

The answers are as diverse as with points of view regarding Covid-19 and the protests – tons of confusing, and sometimes conflicting data.

Why is it so difficult to make correct decisions amid confusing and conflicting data?

Well, it has nothing to do with the data, and everything to do with bias. To be sure, there is conscious and unconscious bias, but for the remainder of this blog, when we talk about bias, we will only be talking about unconscious bias.

Bias becomes problematic when it impairs our judgement and limits our ability to make good decisions, such as whether to wear a mask when going shopping, treating people equitably (which may vary from person to person based on their bias), or selecting the right paint system.

One of the issues with unconscious bias is that we tend to look for things to confirm our preconceived notions.

Can unconscious bias be changed? Maybe. But it doesn’t matter. Why? It’s unconscious. We won’t know if our internal bias has changed anyway.

However, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.

Now, if you’re still awake, and sober, you may be asking yourself, “What the heck is he talking about? And how does combat martial arts come into play and what the heck is a Mushin.”

Glad you asked.

When I talk about combat martial arts, it’s inclusive of all armed practices, including Navy SEALs, special forces, even the ancient Romans, and so forth.

And they all have one thing in common – tons of confusing and sometimes conflicting data.

And in the history of humanity, where has more time been spent learning to use good judgement and make good decisions other than those endeavors that are life and death?

Battle. Why? Because when you make a bad decision, people die.

Which brings us to the cure to bias – Mushin.

Mushin translates loosely from Japanese into “no mind.” For anyone who watched the Tom Cruise movie The Last Samurai, there is a scene where Cruise is trying to learn how to fight with a katana, a samurai sword. He gets tense and frustrated with himself, until a young samurai whispers in his ear, and I’m paraphrasing, that Cruise is minding the sword, and the people around him, and his opponent – when he needs to have “no mind.” Allow his mind to be free and open.

I like to think of Mushin as being completely free of any thought, bias or distraction, and just allowing pure data to flow into my mind to be evaluated.

Picture closing your eyes, looking up to the sun with your arms spread wide. Just taking it all in. No judgement, no preconceived notions. The sun is warm upon my face – there is nothing else in this moment.

How does Mushin work in combat? Let’s say you’re a mixed martial arts fighter. You’ve trained for months for this one fight. Yet as you put in your mouth guard, and you enter the octagon, the ref taps your cup, you’re thinking about the crowd, the noise, your opponent, the bills you have to pay, if you lose, what you’re going to do, they ache in your knee from overtraining and so forth. This is a mind divided and distracted – and less able to evaluate the data when it starts flowing in the form of strikes and takedowns.

Now, picture entering the ring with no mind. There is nothing other than the gloves on your hands, the mouthguard and, perhaps your opponent or perhaps not. You don’t really care about your opponent do you? His eyes, his tattoos, what he says and the way he carries on. None of those things can hurt you. You are only interested in where his hands, elbows feet and knees will be and when.

And when in Mushin, you are better able to focus only on those precise bits of data that matter.

Let me give you another brief example:

Years ago, I was sitting next to a woman of a certain age who was a maverick in her day, a retired, top-level commercial aircraft mechanic.

I asked her what part of the aircraft she worked on, and she said every part. I was stunned and asked how she could possibly remember how to service every aspect of one of the most complex pieces of equipment to ever exist.

She explained (paraphrasing):

“Oh no. I don’t want to remember anything about a specific plane or repair. I just want to be able to follow directions and be proficient with my tools. Let’s say I’ve been working on 727’s for 5 years, and let’s say there’s a bolt that needs to be tightened to, say, 74-foot pounds, and I’ve done that repair a thousand times, yet every single time I do that repair, I start over from scratch. I print up the current repair procedures and follow those directions as if I had never done the repair before. What if something has changed and it now needs to be tightened to 78-foot pounds? Or, am I now required to add a washer, or change out the bolt? I was an excellent mechanic because of my ability to approach each repair as if it were the first time.”

I would argue that she was an excellent mechanic because she epitomized the practice of Mushin. She had no preconceived notions on how to tighten this specific bolt. Each time the experience was new. It was a pure exchange of data without bias.

How does this apply to everything? We need to understand that we are all biased – and we must find tools to ensure that we are still using good judgement and making good decisions in spite of our biases and – here comes the big one – in spite of our feelings.

What feels good may or may not have anything to do with what is accurate. What feels right may not be right. What you judge to be the right decision, or attitude, may or may not be the right decision or attitude.

Practicing Mushin will allow us to make better and better decisions moving forward because it will allow us to see things precisely as they are, and not as we wish them to be, or think they should be.

In a mixed martial arts fight it’s easy. Either my opponent is trying to strike me and I need to move, or not.

With Covid-19, protests and corrosion mitigation, the complexity is nearly overwhelming.

It is not sufficient to be intelligent. There is little connection between judgement and intellect. You don’t need to look further than Covid-19 or the protests to tell that highly intelligent people can have different opinions (which are fundamentally based on our biases) and make completely different decisions based on exactly the same data.

Mushin requires us to be of no mind – open to incoming data, without prejudice, without (to the best of our abilities) bias.

Mushin requires us to listen to others, and take in their emotions, feelings and biases even though it may be difficult to do. Why? Because at the end of the day it’s all data.

Then, and only then, when we are all at the heightened state of Mushin, can we begin to work together to improve our overall judgement and make better decisions.

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