Ignorance Management and Health Care Reform

I’m betting you have an opinion about the U.S. health care reform legislation. It’s one of those big issues that can polarize the nation. I’m curious how you came by your opinion, how you decided which side to take. And I’m betting you decided wrong.

I challenge you to think about how you think. Your thinking leads you to decisions throughout your life. Some decisions are small, and some are large, like where you live, where you work, and who you marry. How you come to these larger decisions can have a serious affect on your future success and happiness. I fear your decision system is causing you to miss great opportunities because you don’t have a method for sorting past the confusion.

I could approach this topic from the seller’s side as I often do. Understanding human nature and how to deal with it can make us more effective sales people. However, this article will more directly benefit you if we look at from the buyer’s side. Specifically, how you buy into ideas that are presented to you. Once you are clear on how to help yourself, you’ll be in a better position to help those to whom you sell.

Mistaken Beliefs

Let me assume you believe that the 2010 U.S. health-care reform package is either good, or bad. Let me also assume you have not fully read (and understood!) the legislation. Therefore, you have come to your beliefs and taken your position based on information from other sources. Do you think that might be a problem? I confess… I have the same problem.

Everyday you and I make decisions that will affect our futures. Many of these decisions may be based on mistaken beliefs, and these beliefs can sabotage your success. Let’s take a few minutes to question where these beliefs come from so we can gain a clear vision of our future. By doing so, we can eliminate the paralysis (when we make no decision), the lost opportunities, the bad decisions, and the expensive mistakes that are keeping us from the progress and improved quality of life we seek.

Thoughtless Thinking

Thinking today has its challenges. Life has grown more complex over time. The U.S. Census once mandated a simple headcount; now some lucky recipients get to answer a 14-page questionnaire. The health care reform package is well over a thousand pages. In contrast, the Homestead Act of 1862, which gave away 430 million acres of U.S. land to its citizens, fit on two handwritten pages. Then there’s the tangle called the U.S. Tax Code and the IRS 1040 form. Today we’re faced with many challenging decisions, some of them time consuming. Getting comprehensive information about the topic isn’t always the solution. We need something else.

We need to plan how we think, as it seems we don’t actually do this very often. It’s easier to default to a familiar decision system regardless of the potential impact of the decision. Instead, we need to stretch our critical thinking skills. We need to make time to decide how we’re going to decide.

Truthful Consequences

Begin by considering the consequences and the rewards associated with the decision and let that influence how you will think about it and how much time you’ll take to think about it. For instance, before committing to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to buy a home with a mortgage, should you take time to read the paperwork before you sign it? I believe the potential consequences merit that level of attention. What about terms for a new credit card? What about the list of ingredients on packages of processed food?

Many of us choose to ignore the ingredients list, because the worst that can happen for most of us is we ingest a few extra calories and a little too much salt. However, if you’re allergic to peanuts, the consequences of eating blindly can make you sick.

Conjoined Questions

To determine how you want to think about a decision and how much time you want to devote to that thinking, ask yourself these three questions:

– What is the potential impact on me?
– How much can I affect the decision?
– What else at this priority level is competing for my time?

You must consider your answers to those three questions holistically, and then choose. Using U.S. health care reform as our example (let’s imagine there’s still a choice to be made), the impact on you will likely be significant and long-lasting. Those are good reasons to invest time in understanding it. However, your ability to affect that decision (should it become law or not) is somewhat limited, as we are depending on the representatives we elected to vote for us. Therefore, our ultimate decision would be to determine if we want to attempt to affect their decision. Whether you do that not will largely depend on your answer to the third question regarding competing priorities. Issues at home or at work may be consuming you to the point where you can’t justify diverting time and energy to persuading your Senate and Congressional representatives.

Ignorance Management

I suspect most Americans opted not to get deeply involved in affecting the health care reform process, but instead chose to figuratively shout from the sidelines. We often come to the beliefs that affect our decisions using four common methods:

– Become An Expert. Actually, this isn’t terribly common because of the time starvation we face and the competing priorities we juggle. But in some areas of your life you are indeed an expert and can take confidence in your beliefs and the decisions that result.

– Let Others Think For Me. This method falls at the other end of the involvement scale. In theory, this is what our elected government representatives are supposed to do for us. They’re supposed to be experts who will make good decisions for us (if we trust them to do that). As another example, I haven’t filled out a tax return in decades. I chose a CPA to help me decide how to best file my tax return. I give him some input, and he thinks for me.

– Use A Litmus Test. You latch onto one issue for your deciding factor and ignore all else. For instance, when confused about voting for political candidates, it’s easy to pick one issue that you care about, such as abortion, gun-control, or immigration, then base your decision on that and ignore all else. Sellers often force buyers to resort to a litmus test. If the seller confuses the buyer with their sales approach, the buyer will frequently resort to the litmus test of lowest price, if they make a purchase at all; a confused mind says, “No!”

– Validate Key Drivers. I recommend identifying the key drivers that will likely be associated with a successful decision outcome, and then testing the validity of those drivers.

For example, when choosing a mortgage the key drivers to investigate might include:

– the interest rate calculation method
– the terms should you default
– early repayment options and penalties

If these three key drivers meet with your approval and don’t raise any red flags, you may feel comfortable deciding to go ahead without studying the entire agreement.

If you sell, help your buyers work through this ignorance management process. It will allow them to make better decisions faster, and that can lead to a healthier wallet for you.

Decision Satisfaction

Ultimately, you want to plan how you’re going to decide important issues. You want to like your answer to, “Why do I BELIEVE the way I do?”

We know we’re starved for time, that we can’t be expert on everything. Not every decision can be about information and logic. Yet we can get clear on why we believe what we believe. Decisions based on untested beliefs are prone to failure. Make time for critical thinking. Consider the consequences and rewards. Decide how much you’re willing to invest in the decision, and then choose a decision process that will enable you to believe in your decision. Make time to learn, make time to think, and you’ll enjoy more opportunities for success.

Copyright 2010 Paul Johnson.

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