Cognitive errors by professionals confound our notion that those highly trained specialists – doctors, architects, scientists, experienced general counsel – reason rationally on a bedrock of solid beliefs. They don’t – none of us do – so we had best be on our guard against cracks and gaps in the surface of thought. A review in the NY Times Book Rev., April 1, 2007, at 11, of a book about how doctors think ticks off a number of tremors that shake medical rationality. One is called “diagnosis momentum.”
Once a doctor puts a name to a condition, that diagnosis “is passed on to other doctors with ever-increasing conviction.” Likewise, once a situation in a law department gets labeled, especially by the senior lawyer, the diagnosis tends to stick, and indeed gets reinforced.
The cure – or at least ameliorative – lies along the lines of questioning one’s own certainties, playing devils advocate, and remaining open to new views (See my post of Sept. 4, 2006 on devil’s advocates and other techniques to promote creativity; and June 12, 2005 on underlying assumptions of law departments.).