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  • Writer's pictureNitul

What is the fence paradox? Work hard, dream big, and always be aware of the fence.

Updated: Jul 15, 2021

We homo sapiens, as a species have evolved a lot throughout these years of our existence. From being at the near bottom of the food chain pyramid once upon a time to us dominating this planet in every aspect, we have achieved a lot. All these achievements are the results of evolution and many revolutions we have come across so far. But what did drive humans towards these series of upgrades? Definitely the atmosphere, food chain hierarchy, threat from other animals in the jungle, and the social hierarchy after the formation of human societies. But behind all of these, It's the basic desire of humans to be better followed by working hard towards it. What separates us from other species on earth is our ability to cooperate and of course to dream big.

The fence paradox
@DrCirillo on twitter

Work hard, dream big, never give up:

At an individual level too, every one of us has some dreams. Be it totally based on materialistic goals, goals we set as a result of being influenced by society and surroundings, or goals that are highly motivated towards uplifting society, upgrading human lives, and solving real-world problems. But despite all these big dreams, hard work, and motivation, why do most of the millennials end up failing? This is the question we must ask ourselves.

All big dreams demand taking big risks. Are you ready to resign from the job right now? Are you ready to drop out from your college to chase your dreams? These questions may seem cliche but choosing an affirmative answer even though the reality may turn out to be negative later says a lot about your psychological state of taking a big risk. But is taking a big risk enough to get success? Definitely not.

Our social structure does not endorse taking big risks. One term we can introduce here. It's called ‘the fence paradox’ which is a result of a phenomenon called risk homeostasis. I recently got to know about this through an Indian podcast.

The philosophy of risk homeostasis goes like this:

“Whenever a novel safety technology enables a person to choose between performing a task more effectively at the same perceived risk level as before or performing the task more safely at the same effectiveness level as before, he will choose the former”.

What is the fence paradox?

Let's say there is a cliff and the other side has something valuable. There is a probability that the risk-taker may fall. It's part of the game. Reality works this way. He may get up after the fall but the authority doesn't want him to fall. They create fences, build regulations.

But fences make people underestimate the risk. Their perceptions of risk get modified.

Then the fence breaks, many fall down. This time, not just one. They felt safe with the fence, they were wrong.

Reference: Pasquale Cirillo @DrCirillo on twitter.

The fence paradox
Credit: Pasquale Cirillo @DrCirillo on twitter

Real-life examples of the fence paradox:

Colleges and degrees:

Colleges around the world function on rules and regulations. Rules like you must have this much GPA or you must score this much to get the degree. Now the degree is the fence. It is something you can fall back to. What most students do during thor college is run after marks, score well, impress the faculties and earn a fancy degree. This is what the authorities want. They don't want anyone to fall. But let's say the whole scene gets changed somehow. The things you studied to earn the degree becomes irrelevant. What will you do? This is the point of breaking down the fence. The modified perception of risk has failed to safeguard you from becoming irrelevant in this case. (Inspired from a recent podcast on YouTube by @VarunMayya)

Let's take another example:


Anti Lock braking systems were introduced in cars to save you on slippery roads. This subconsciously pushes the driver into a carefree zone and he drives faster having full confidence in ABS. But sometimes the ABS fails which eventually leads to major accidents. This is the breaking down point of the fence. He felt safe, he was not.

Work hard, dream big and always be aware of the fence:

The modified perception of risk is the real problem. Whether it is the present college education system or the social structure, fences are everywhere.

Learn new skills, work hard and keep updating yourself. All that matters in the real world are skills. Degrees are becoming irrelevant now. The world is changing very fast. Skill learning is not that tough now. Countless online platforms are offering thousands of courses on coding, machine learning marketing SEO, etc. Try to build a growth mindset. That's it.

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