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Notes by Brendan Foote and Ian De Silva
IEEE Invited Talk: Games Software Architect Play: On Reasoning Fallacies, Cognitive Biases, and Politics
Phillippe Kruchten, University of British Columbia
Phillippe got exposure to large and not-so-large companies as a software architecture consultant with Rational in the early part of the century. Everywhere, he saw how design really was the same thing as making decisions, and everyone uses a process to do that.
Architectural design is about making decisions. Providing a rationale for the design is the argument behind it. "The life of a software architect is a long (and sometimes painful) succession of suboptimal decision made partially in the dark," he says. On a positive note, architects can get help by dividing and conquering, bringing in an outsider for additional perspective, and reframing the problem, in addition to many other techniques. But not everything is rosy: there are cognitive biases, reasoning fallacies, and political games. Cognitive biases occur because designers often rely on intuition, but their intuition is flawed.
Reasoning fallacies occur because flawed arguments/incorrect reasoning leads to a potentially wrong decision. Beliefs can also be presented as facts, but most fallacies are accidental. Political games are a set of arguments, superficially plausible, possibly leading to a design decision, but with a concealed ulterior motive. Phillippe mentions the coincidence of the overlap of this part of his talk with Mary Poppendieck's this morning. Regardless, architects rely on their intuition, and it is flawed for various reasons. The most humorous of these is the bias bias, which is where the architects think they are not affected by bias! Phillippe presents a catalog of these games:
But these mental shortcuts aren't all bad. In his book Blink, Malcolm Gladwell praises the power of snap decisions.
So what do we know when we've become aware of these games? Well, we could always use the knowledge malevolently and exploit them to get what we want. We could be the contrarian who debunks these in a group, or at least challenges the premises. If there is an opposite to operating under these biases, it must be critical thinking. By that we mean thinking for a purpose, reasoning about data, drawing conclusions, and inferring implications. Further readings for understanding and mitigating cognitive bias include Thinking Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman.