Wants vs. Beliefs

A funny thing about the human mind is we tend to believe what we want to believe. We are prone to allowing what we want to have happen distort our reasoning on how likely it is to happen.

My recent post on the future of UI will be boring has disappointed some. They think I want the future to boring because I predict it will be so.

This is wrong. I’d love new and better things as much as anyone.

However, having studied the history of change and progress I know how many factors are involved for change of this kind to happen, and how many of those factors have nothing to do with how much better a particular new idea is. My prediction is based on what I think will happen, independent of whether I want it to happen or not.

If you strip away what you want or don’t want for a moment, your odds of seeing things clearly go up. I’m not saying I’m right about the future, only that there is a distinction in my mind between things I want to have happen and I things I think will happen. It’s a very useful distinction to be able to make.

It should be possible to:

  • Believe in something you hope doesn’t happen (e.g. death)
  • Want something even if it’s improbable (developing superpowers as you age)
  • Accept that things happen regardless of whether you believe in them or not
  • Work for something you want despite the odds (changing the world for the better)

8 Responses to “Wants vs. Beliefs”

  1. Thomas Petersen

    Sorry Scott but that strawman.

    I and I am sure many others as it seems like from the comments, by no means think that you want it to be boring.

    I believe you when you say you believe it will be.

    But that does not mean you are right.

  2. Sean Crawford

    I am glad for your sake that you wrote this post after the UI post, and not during it. I think it is healthier for any writer to write for sane people of goodwill who don’t misinterpret.

    I for one am too ornery to sooth any threatened people by writing, “Needless to say, this does not mean X, but it does mean Y (which I have already written).

    Some day I may copy the writer who gently replied, “I don’t know where you saw me saying X. What I said is what I said.”

  3. Baldur Bjarnason

    My problem with your recent post had nothing to do with wants or beliefs. I generally agree with your conclusion, just think that you used bogus arguments to support it. Most of the counter-examples from the history of change and progress that you cited weren’t applicable to the current state of computing (e.g. state-standardised electricity infrastructure).

    There are plenty of examples from computing history to make your point, a lot of them even from the history of Apple (Lisa, Newton, even Cube if you think of tablets as an established product category). You could have made a strong point backed by ‘apples to apples’ references to the past.

    I guess that’s the reason why I didn’t comment on the earlier post. I agree with you, but feel that you made your point uncharacteristically badly.

    It was disappointing.

    Besides, how can the future be boring when the present isn’t? :-D

  4. Scott Berkun


    Not sure I understand your critique.

    > the counter-examples from the history of change
    > and progress that you cited weren

  5. Catrien Ross

    Scott, hello from the foot of Mount Fuji, Japan. There is also simply experiencing things as they happen without bringing your wants to bear on the unfolding of events and situations. The unfolding itself is interesting enough, because it is. It is always our response to the unfolding that disappoints or enrages us. Our unhappiness is a result of our wanting things to happen according to what we believe about how they ought to happen. We are rarely willing to experience or look at things for the things themselves. Our personal and cultural filters prevent us from seeing things clearly. Stepping aside, stepping back, pausing a moment, and making the distinction can go a long way to clearing up our perceptions. This in turn opens our mind to possibility and paradox and frees us to move to the next step. Thanks for your post.

  6. Mike Nitabach

    UIs *should* be boring. When I interact with a device, I don’t want to be surprised or excited.



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