You control less than you think

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You are controlling less than you think you are

At around 8 o’ clock, everyday, a man holding a red flag stands in a traffic signal and wave his flag around wildly. After five minutes he disappears. One day, a policeman comes up to him and asks: ‘What are you doing?’I’m keeping Rhinos away.’ ‘But there are only vehicles.’ ‘Well, I must be doing a good job, then’.

A friend with a fractured leg was stuck in bed and asked me to pick up a lucky coupon for him. I went to the store, checked, wrote his name on it and paid. As I handled him the copy of coupon, he balked. ‘Why did you fill it out? I wanted to do that. I lose everything with your numbers’.

‘Do you really think it affects the draw if you pick the numbers?’ I enquired. He looked at me blankly.

In casinos, most people throw the dice as hard as they can if they need a high number. They throw as gingerly as possible if they are hoping for a lower number. It is as nonsensical as cricket fans thinking they can swing a game by gesticulating in front of the TV.

The illusion of control is the tendency to believe that we can influence something. Yet, over which we have absolutely no sway. This was discovered in 1965 by two researchers, Jenkins and Ward. Their experiment was simple, consisting of just two switches and a light. The men were able to adjust when the switches connected to the light and when not. Even when the light flashed on and off at random, subjects were still convinced that they could influence it by flicking the switches.

Or consider this example: an American investigator has been investigating acoustic sensitivity to pain. For this, he placed people in sound booths. They increased the volume until the subjects signaled him to stop. The two rooms, A and B, were identical, save one thing: room B had a red panic button on the wall. The button was purely for show. Yet, it gave participants the feeling that they were in control of the situation. That led them to withstand significantly more noise.

Crossing the street in Bangalore is a very risky; luckily, at the press of a button we can stop traffic. Or can we? The buttons real purpose is to make us believe we have an influence on the traffic lights. So that we are better able to endure the wait for the signal to change with more patience. The same goes for ‘door-open’ and ‘door-close’ buttons in elevators. Many of them are disconnected from the electric panel. Such tricks are also designed into air condition open plan offices. For some people it will be too hot, for others too cold. Clever technicians create the illusion of control by installing fake temperature dials. This reduces energy bills – and complaints. Such ploys are called ‘placebo buttons’ and they are being pushed in different sorts of realms.

Central bankers and government officials employ placebo buttons masterfully. Take, for instance, the extreme short-term rate, an over-night rate to be precise. Anyway the long term interest rates remain unaffected by this rate. However, the stock market, nevertheless, reacts frenetically to its each change. Nobody understands why overnight interest rates can have such an effect on the market. Yet, everybody thinks that they do, and so they do.

The same goes for pronouncements made by Chairman of the Federal Reserve. ‘Markets move, even though these statements inject little of tangible value into the economy.’ They are merely sound waves. And still we allow economic heads to continue to play with the illusionary dials. It would be a real wake-up call if everyone involved realized the truth. The truth is “the world economy is a fundamentally uncontrollable system.”

And you? Do you have everything under control? Probably less than you think. Forget that you command your way through life like a Roman emperor. Rather, you are the man with the red flag. Therefore, focus on few things of importance that you can really influence. For everything else: Que sera, sera (Whatever will be, will be).

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The detailed report is compiled using the proprietary research notes that I have written over last two decades.