Monday, December 13, 2010

Business Ethics Lecture Series - Part 24 - Concepts of Cognitive Bias and Paradigm Shift

Two Mulla Nasrudin Stories


Whenever I am overwhelmed and confused by jargon I seek guidance in the teaching stories of the wise Sufi philosopher Mulla Nasrudin.
Here are two of my favourite Mulla Nasrudin jargon buster stories which exemplify the concepts of Cognitive Bias and Paradigm Shift.

Nasrudin the smuggler was leading a donkey loaded with bundles of straw on its back.

An experienced customs inspector newly posted on that border check-post spotted Nasrudin and his donkey crossing the border. 

“Halt,” the customs inspector said, “Who are you? What is your business here?”

“I am an honest smuggler!” replied Nasrudin.

“Oh, really?” said the customs inspector, “Well, let me search those straw bundles. If I find something in them, then you will have to pay customs duty.”

“Do as you wish, “Nasrudin replied, “but you will not find anything in those bundles.” 

The inspector intensively searched and took apart the bundles, but could not find a single thing in them. He had no choice but to say embarrassingly to Nasrudin, “You may pass the border.” 

Nasrudin crossed the border with his donkey while the curious and annoyed customs inspector looked on.

The very next day, Nasrudin once again came to the border with a straw-carrying donkey.

The inspector saw Nasrudin coming and thought, “I’ll catch him for sure this time.” 

He checked the bundles of straw again, and then searched through Nasrudin’s clothing, and even went through the donkey’s harness.

But once again the customs inspector came up empty handed and had to let Nasrudin pass. 

This same pattern continued every day for several years, and every day Nasrudin wore more and more extravagant clothing and jewellery that indicated he was getting wealthier.

Eventually, the customs inspector retired from his job after several years of service, but even in retirement he still wondered about the man with the straw-carrying donkey. 

“I should have checked that donkey’s mouth more extensively,” he thought to himself, “Or maybe he hid something in the donkey’s rectum.”

Then one day the retired customs inspectors spotted Nasrudin’s face in a crowd. “

Hey,” the retired customs inspector said, “I know you! You are that man who came to my border check-post everyday for all those years with a straw-carrying donkey. Please, sir, I must talk to you.”

Nasrudin came towards him and the retired customs inspector continued talking. “My friend, I always wondered what you were smuggling past my border everyday. Just between you and me, you must tell me. I am retired now but I must know just to satisfy my curiosity. Please tell me what you smuggling were for all those years under my very nose?”

“Donkeys,” Nasrudin said triumphantly, “I was smuggling donkeys!”

It’s true, isn’t it – sometimes our thinking is coloured by our “mental maps” (paradigms) and “cognitive biases”. 

But if we look at things differently, with a paradigm shift everything becomes clear. 

Simply stated, a paradigm is the way we look at the world.

That’s the “key” isn’t it...? 
To look at things differently, shifting our paradigms... 
The very mention of the word “key” brings to my mind this famous Mulla Nasrudin story on a similar theme:

One blistering afternoon, under the blazing sun, people saw Mulla Nasrudin crawling on his knees in the middle of a road in broad daylight frantically searching for something. 

The crowd observed him curiously for some time and then an inquisitive man asked him, “What are you searching for, Mulla?”

“I’ve lost my key” replied Mulla Nasrudin.

Being of a helping nature the man joined Mulla Nasrudin in searching for the lost key and soon there were a large number of people on all fours searching for the elusive key. 

An extensive search was carried out but the key was not found, so someone in the crowd asked Nasrudin, “Mulla, do you remember where you lost the key?” 

“I lost the key in basement of my house,” replied Mulla Nasrudin matter-of-factly.

“What? You lost the key in the basement of your house?” the astonished crowd asked, “Then why are you searching for the key here in the middle of the road?” 

“Because there is more light here,” replied the wise Mulla Nasrudin. 

This Mulla Nasrudin teaching story is symbolic.

Everybody is looking for the key. The key to happiness, the key to bliss, the key to freedom, the key to God, the key to peace, the key to success...everyone is searching for some elusive "key" in the wrong place... 

Most of us look for the key outside. 

The key is sought in power, in success, in relationships, in wealth, in others. 

"Much light" seems outside. 

Very few look for the key within. The key was lost within and so has to be searched within.  

We need a paradigm shift and seek solutions to our problems by looking inwards instead of outwards.

The concept of teaching stories is embodied in the tales of the inimitable Mulla Nasrudin narrated by Sufis to illustrate aspects of human behaviour which are relevant to both our personal and professional lives. 

The first step to self-growth is to try to identify yourself in these stories and to acknowledge that you too could be as foolish or as lacking in discernment as the characters in these classic tales. And then it will be easy for you to imbibe the wisdom in these tales. 

Wishing you Unbiased Cognition, the ability to Paradigm Shift and Enlightenment. May you discover your “keys”!
Copyright © Vikram Karve 2010
Vikram Karve has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
© vikram karve., all rights reserved.

VIKRAM KARVE educated at IIT Delhi, ITBHU, The Lawrence School Lovedale, and Bishop's School Pune, is an Electronics and Communications Engineer by profession, a Human Resource Manager and Trainer by occupation, a Teacher by vocation, a Creative Writer by inclination and a Foodie by passion. An avid blogger, he has written a number of fiction short stories and creative non-fiction articles in magazines and journals for many years before the advent of blogging. His delicious foodie blogs have been compiled in a book "Appetite for a Stroll". Vikram lives in Pune with his family and pet Doberman girl Sherry, with whom he takes long walks thinking creative thoughts.
Vikram Karve Creative Writing Blog -
Academic Journal Vikram Karve
Professional Profile of Vikram Karve -
Foodie Book: Appetite for a Stroll

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