Are You Sure It Was That Obvious?

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You've probably heard the saying that with hindsight, one has 20/20 vision.

"Why didn't you do this then?"

"How could you have ignored those signs?"

"Weren't you considering those factors then?"

Everybody becomes a Sherlock Holmes only when the nefarious deed is done, and the plot becomes crystal clear. Or so it seemed.

The truth, however, is that we all suffer from what psychologists call creeping determinism. Also known as the hindsight bias, the term was popularised by Malcolm Gladwell in a 2003 article from the New Yorker.

Hospitals, courts (especially the court of public opinion), battlefields and boardrooms all suffer from this. It seems that any work involving diagnosis, research, investigation or experimentation will inevitably fall prey to creeping determinism - if the sh*t hits the fence.

The danger of this is evident. Hindsight bias makes us ultra cautious and "kiasu" in our work, taking a multitude of extra steps to swing the odds in our favour.

Raincoat? Check.

Bulletproof vest? Check.

Insurance policy over my insurance policy? Check.

By the time we're ready to execute, the show is over. We would have lost that opportunity - no matter how slim it was - to make a significant difference.

I believe that some balance is in order. For sure, read through the case files and chronologies, and understand as much of the past as you can. Talk to those who have done something similar and learn from them.

However, do not let the fear of taking action paralyse you. Hedge your risks, but only to a limited extent. Beyond that, you should still move ahead, keep your fingers crossed and leave it in God's hands.

In a similar fashion, do not lay excessive blame on yourself or others when things go awry. That post mortem report should be kept as a learning platform and not a "you should have known better" exercise.

The next time you feel like crying over spilt milk - or point the finger at somebody who did - remember that nobody is totally prescient (except God). Instead, try to learn what you can from the situation, sharpen your craft, and move on.

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