2-4-6 (or 2-4-8) Game

David Leonhardt in today's New York Times invites readers to play a little game--guess a rule for a sequence of three numbers.  Here's the link.  

Invented by psychologist Peter Cathart in 1960 ("On the failure to eliminate hypotheses in a conceptual task", Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 12, 3, 129-140, link here), I first learned the game from my colleague Jerry Langley in 2001.  Jerry uses it to teach people about the importance of testing ideas and predicting outcomes, as motivation for learning the Model for Improvement.

Leonhardt usefully discusses the game in the original context of "confirmation bias"-there seems to be a natural human tendency to seek confirmation of views we already have and to avoid disconfirmations. The upside of the bias is that we're sometimes right and a quick confirmation is all we need to make progress.  The downside of the bias is there are few if any universal rules related to human systems so at some point our mental model will fail.   If we never determine situations where our views fail, we're quite constrained in our ability to learn and develop systems that do work, in the appropriate circumstances.

Leonhardt's conclusion:

"When you seek to disprove your idea, you sometimes end up proving it — and other times you can save yourself from making a big mistake. But you need to start by being willing to hear no. And even if you think that you are right, you need to make sure you’re asking questions that might actually produce an answer of no. If you still need to work on this trait, don’t worry: You’re only human."
 

You can see a lot just by looking: European Infant Mortality and GDP in Motion

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