How often do you know your mind well enough not to trust it?

Today is October 17 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often do you know your mind well enough not to trust it?” Those who navigate the chaos understand the meaning behind the following Zen parable.

A young, but earnest, martial arts student asked his new teacher: “I am devoted to studying your martial system. How long will it take me to master it?” The teacher replied casually: “Ten years.” The student wanted to learn faster: “But what if I really, really work hard at it? How long will it take then?” The teacher thought for a moment. “20 years,” he finally replied.

Learning something is easy. Training your mind is not — it takes a lifetime, as this Zen parable reminds us. Those who translate their dreams into reality over a lifetime often learn not to trust their mind.

In his book The Undoing Project, author Michael Lewis wrote this about Daryl Morey, General Manager of the Houston Rockets, “he had a diffidence about him-an understanding of how hard it is to know anything for sure. The closest he came to certainty was in his approach to making decisions. He never simply went with his first thought. He suggested a new definition of the nerd: a person who knows his own mind well enough to mistrust it.”

Morey is a strong proponent of analytical methods, having created the "true shooting percentage" statistic. Morey's basketball philosophy, heavily reliant on analytics, favors three-point field goals over mid-range jumpers, has been dubbed "Moreyball", as a nod towards Michael Lewis's Moneyball. His hiring followed the Moneyball trend of employing more advanced statistical-based analysis in addition to the traditional use of qualitative scouting and basic statistics to identify new athletes.

Several teams have hired executives with non-traditional basketball backgrounds, but the Houston Rockets were the first NBA team to hire such a general manager in Morey. In the fall of 2012, he acquired All-Star James Harden via trade from the Oklahoma City Thunder. During Morey's tenure, the Rockets have not had a losing record and have advanced in the playoffs 4 times, including to the Western Conference Finals in 2015.

As Morey said “Your mind needs to be in a constant state of defense against all the crap that is trying to mislead you. We are always trying to figure out what is a trick and what’s real. Are we seeing a hologram? Is this an illusion? Knowledge is literally prediction…knowledge is anything that increases your ability to predict the outcome. Literally everything you do you are trying to predict the right thing. Most people just do it subconsciously.”

One example of how minds were misled concerns NBA star Jeremy Lin. Lin knows all too well what happened when scouts, coaches, and owners relied on their confirmation bias and were misled by their belief that an Asian would be unable to play in the NBA. With no Division I colleges recruiting Lin out of high school he attended Harvard. Upon graduating Harvard no pro team recruited him. To his disappointment, no team chose Lin in the 2010 NBA draft.

Eight teams had invited Lin to pre-draft workouts. Lin joined the Dallas Mavericks for mini-camp as well as their NBA Summer League team in Las Vegas. Donnie Nelson of the Mavericks was the only General Manager who offered him an invitation to play in the Summer League. "Donnie took care of me," said Lin. "He has a different type of vision than most people do." For the next two seasons Lin bounced between teams.

During the 2011-2012 season, while on the New York Knicks but not playing very much, Lin was put into a game because so many of his teammates were injured. On the verge of quitting professional basketball, Lin made the most of the Knicks opportunity and went on to dispel the confirmation bias that so many held against him; an Asian could play professional basketball.

In February 2012, Lin was promoted to the starting lineup and led the team on a seven-game winning streak. Lin's stellar play during the season helped the Knicks make the 2012 playoffs; it also catapulted him to international fame. Lin appeared on the covers of Sports Illustrated and Time and was named to the Time 100 as one of the most influential people in the world. In July 2012, Lin won the ESPY Award for Breakthrough Athlete of the Year.

Experts concluded that Lin did not belong in the NBA, but they allowed their confirmation bias to cloud their judgement. Do you? As Robertson Davies wrote “The eye sees only what the mind is prepared to comprehend.”

How often do you know your mind well enough not to trust it?