No.231: Misconceptions

Willmot's Weekly Wisdom

Quickly answer this puzzle:
A pocket calculator and pencil cost $3.10 at the local stationery store.
The calculator costs $3.00 more than the pencil.
How much does the pencil cost?

The number that comes to mind for most is, of course, 10 cents. The distinguishing characteristic of this puzzle is that it evokes an answer that is intuitive, appealing, and wrong. If the pencil costs 10 cents, then the total cost will be $3.20 (10 cents for the pencil and $3.10 for the pocket calculator), not $3.10. The correct answer is 5 cents.

Many people are overconfident and inclined to an over-reliance on intuition. Because of this, misconceptions perpetuate in life and business. I’ve researched organisational behaviour and studied the implications. There are nine repeated causes, some of which include:

  1. Failure to confirm: Intuition and assumption lead people not to check facts or assumptions, or to gather additional input.
  2. Historical thinking: Remaining in the past by using previous data, processes, and methods. Thereby failing to seek out better approaches.
  3. Lack of alignment: Incorrect and poor decisions can stem from a failure to connect the problem to the overall strategy.

The misconceptions, erroneous assumptions, and poor decisions can be rectified with learning. It’s not difficult but requires deliberate and conscious effort. And, keeping in mind the pitfalls of misconceptions can make any leader a more effective decision maker.


“Stupidity is a talent for misconception.”
— Edgar Allan Poe.