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Meet the Brutal Killer Who Wrote the English Dictionary

The Planning Fallacy: A Perennial Pitfall in Human Endeavors

By Med KarimPublished 4 months ago 4 min read
Meet the Brutal Killer Who Wrote the English Dictionary
Photo by Joshua Hoehne on Unsplash

If you often find yourself scrambling to catch up with deadlines, regularly running behind schedule, or experiencing the annual Christmas Eve rush for gifts, you're not alone. And contrary to what you might think, it's not necessarily a sign of incompetence or laziness on your part—unless, of course, you're watching this video at 3 PM in your pajamas, then maybe we need to reassess. More likely, you're falling prey to what psychologists call the planning fallacy—a common human tendency to underestimate the time needed to complete tasks or overestimate our efficiency. This phenomenon is pervasive in our lives, affecting not only individuals but also major projects and even fictional characters like Pinky and the Brain.

Consider iconic construction projects like the Sydney Opera House, which ended up taking a decade longer and costing significantly more than initially planned. Similarly, Berlin Airport faced extensive delays, stretching its planning phase to 15 years, with completion trailing behind by another nine years. Even the ambitious schemes of animated characters can't escape this trap, as evidenced by Pinky and the Brain's perpetual failure to conquer the world.

It's worth noting that the planning fallacy isn't exclusive to the average person; professionals tasked with planning also succumb to its allure. A striking example is the monumental effort undertaken by the Philological Society of London in the 19th century to create the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). Initially projected to take a decade, the endeavor stretched into a staggering seven decades before reaching completion in 1928.

The OED's journey was marked by slow progress in its early years until the recruitment of James Murray, a philologist and lexicographer, breathed new life into the project. Murray's leadership transformed the endeavor, although progress remained sluggish. To compile the dictionary, Murray's team meticulously collected quotations from a vast array of English-language sources, aiming to provide not just definitions but also historical context for each word.

Recognizing the monumental task ahead, Murray mobilized a global network of volunteers to contribute quotations. Among them was William Chester Minor, an American doctor residing in England. However, Minor's story takes a dark turn; plagued by paranoid schizophrenia, he had been committed to Broadmoor, a psychiatric facility, after fatally shooting an innocent man during a delusional episode.

Despite his circumstances, Minor became one of the most prolific contributors to the OED, his dedication fueled by a desire to contribute to society or perhaps find solace in intellectual pursuits. Murray and Minor developed a genuine friendship over the years, with Murray unaware of Minor's tragic backstory until much later.

As Minor's mental health deteriorated, Murray and others advocated for his release, which finally came in 1910. Despite his troubled life, Minor's contributions to the English language remain an enduring legacy, underscoring the complexity of the human experience and the power of dedication in the face of adversity.

In the annals of linguistic history, William Chester Minor stands as an unsung hero, his efforts enriching our understanding of language and culture. So, the next time you consult the OED for a definition, spare a moment to appreciate the contributions of this remarkable individual.

The impact of the planning fallacy extends far beyond individual experiences; it permeates society, shaping our perceptions and interactions with the world around us. From major infrastructure projects to everyday tasks, its influence can be felt in myriad ways.

Consider the case of major corporations embarking on ambitious ventures. Despite careful planning and extensive resources, projects often encounter delays and budget overruns. The phenomenon is so common that it has earned its own moniker in business circles: "project creep." This tendency for projects to expand beyond their initial scope is a direct result of the planning fallacy, as stakeholders consistently underestimate the complexities involved.

Even governments are not immune to the planning fallacy. Public infrastructure projects, such as bridges, highways, and public transportation systems, frequently face delays and cost overruns, much to the frustration of taxpayers. The consequences of these delays can be far-reaching, affecting economic productivity, public safety, and overall quality of life.

In the realm of personal finance, the planning fallacy can wreak havoc on individuals' financial well-being. From budgeting for major purchases to saving for retirement, people often underestimate the time and resources required to achieve their financial goals. This can lead to poor financial decisions, mounting debt, and a precarious financial future.

The planning fallacy also influences our social interactions and relationships. From planning events and gatherings to completing group projects, individuals consistently underestimate the time and effort required to coordinate activities effectively. This can lead to frustration, disappointment, and strained relationships as expectations fail to align with reality.

In summary, the planning fallacy is a pervasive and insidious phenomenon that affects individuals, organizations, and societies at large. By recognizing its influence and taking steps to mitigate its effects, we can improve our ability to plan effectively and achieve our goals more efficiently. Whether it's building a dictionary or simply getting through the day, understanding the planning fallacy is key to navigating the complexities of modern life.

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Med Karim

"When you have a dream, you've got to grab it and never let go."

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    Med KarimWritten by Med Karim

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