Archive for 13 August 2008

Our Attachment to Closing Doors

One of my favorite new business books so far this year is Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions by Dan Ariely. It addresses all kinds of issues from the motivating power of pain, pleasure and just plain placebos, explanations for why the honor code in the workplace (leaving a dollar in the conference room for your coffee and doughnut) really does work, and more.

But the most interesting examples for me where those where Ariely explores the all too human penchant for keeping as many options as possible open, even when the choice to do so is clearly, obviously, detrimental. Ariely even created a game (try it out for yourself here) where you have the choice to keep options (doors) open or not, all while trying to achieve the highest score. Even knowing what you’re “supposed” to do to win, most people will find themselves clicking to keep as many possible doors open, rather than optimizing their score. Why?

“Closing a door on an options is experienced as a loss,” Dr. Ariely explains. “And people are will to pay a price, sometime a significant price, in order to avoid to emotion of loss.” In the game of course, the trade-off is a lower score for more open doors, but in life sometime the trade-offs aren’t as obvious: wasted time, missed opportunities, lowered creativity, etc. All because we’re afraid to firmly shut the door an option, a project, a colleague, etc.

And flip this to the client side…how much information is too much for clients? Whether they gather it on their own, or we supply it them, the more options they’re presented with, the harder time they have coming to decision. And from Dr. Ariely’s research, this is an ingrained human habit. So don’t get too upset with your clients for dithering…instead think of ways to simplify and clarify the decision-making process for them. Plus keep in mind that they might be willing to pay in order to keep options open! 

As for the “option habit” in our own businesses, I’ve been making a conscious effort to truly weigh what keeping certain opportunities “live” costs me, and I’ve found I’m more willing to cut the cord on them than I was before reading this book. But make no mistake, it is an effort, and it often does cause little mental twinges and spasms of doubt and regret…but I also feel less cluttered mentally and emotionally than I have for a while.

As always, we welcome your thoughts and comments!

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13 August 2008 at 1:01 pm 1 comment


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