Seen the future of senior living? Actually, you probably haven't

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John O'Connor
John O'Connor

If you are fairly certain about the road ahead for senior living, I have some troubling news to share.

And it comes from just about the last place you'd expect: a book about two Israeli psychologists.

I'm referring of course to “The Undoing Project,” by Michael Lewis.

The book focuses on Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky. They jointly wrote original studies undoing general assumptions about the ways we make decisions.

Specifically, they demonstrated ways in which the human mind erred, systematically, when forced to make judgments in uncertain situations. Their efforts led to the creation of behavioral economics, revolutionized Big Data studies, and helped replace human intuition with algorithms in many sectors.

Kahneman and Tversky repeatedly showed that when it comes to dealing with complicated real-life problems (say, trying to figure out what this field will look like in five years or a decade down the road), we tend to construct stories based on experience.

This approach may cause us to get sidetracked in two harmful ways, they suggest. One is that we tend to over-think the likelihood that the past will repeat itself. The second is that once we make such an interpretation, it's almost impossible to consider alternative outcomes.

Or as they put it, “The production of a compelling scenario is likely to constrain future thinking.”

Lewis notes that as an example, consider a Jew living in Paris just before World War II. Should that person stay put or flee? In hindsight, the answer is obvious. But at the time, she or he might have been inclined to believe that an invading German army would likely behave as it had during a similar invasion two decades prior. Even if there was fairly compelling evidence that things might turn out quite differently the second time around. Which, tragically, they did.

Santayana famously warned us that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. But it seems there is another side to this coin: Those who think the past will repeat may be fooling themselves.

Just a little something to chew on before your next strategic planning meeting.

John O'Connor is editorial director of McKnight's Senior Living. Email him at john.oconnor@mcknights.com.

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