Behavioural Economics and Second Order Thinking

I really enjoyed the article on Chesterton’s Fence I came across recently. It really made me reflect on Behavioural Economics again – as does so much stuff I read.

The Chesterton’s Fence analogy is an excellent description of why challenging assumptions in Agile processes is so important, but the reason I like it is because thinking in a Behavioural Economics way you can use it to inform Second Order Thinking. Or in some ways, start to predict the future about what effects a particular action has.

In Behavioural Economics terms, the fence can have multiple purposes, but what it incentives is keeping something in or out. By removing that fence is no-longer performs that function and whatever protection it afforded no-longer is true.

I know in reality however I’m sure I would mindlessly be attempting to remove the fence post without thinking about it’s purpose. Fortunately because of the repeatability of DevOps practices we can re-enforce that thinking each time.

I write this however, not so much attempting to be a sooth sayer, but, much like the fence, as a warning that what Second Order Thinking and Behavioural Economics can tell you about the future, is still assumptions based on assumptions, and that you can really only understand what happens next through small fail fast experimentation.

So perhaps the answer the true analogy isn’t about the fence being moved, but instead about making assumptions about the effect of moving it.

But then there is such a thing as taking an analogy too far.