Change Your Organization By Changing Your Meetings


Cover of the book Meeting DesignMeetings are everywhere. Whether it’s a team meeting at work, or a committee meeting of the local music society you volunteer for, a lot of us spend a lot of time in meetings. How many of those meetings are actually enjoyable, productive, and satisfying?

Forget about the usual meeting hacks you’ve read about (start and stop on time, have a clear agenda and action steps after the meeting, and so on). Kevin M. Hoffman, in his book Meeting Design, goes much further. He approaches the design of meetings as he would approach the design of a user experience, or a product interface.

In this episode of Human Tech we explore how designing meetings can change the team, and perhaps change the organization.

 

 

The best way to reach Kevin is to contact him via twitter:

@Kevinmhoffman

AND Kevin is looking to hire designers and researchers at Capital One in Washington DC area, Chicago, New York, Richmond VA, San Francisco, or Plano TX, so contact him if you are interested.

And check out his book: Meeting Design published by Rosenfeld Media.

Get a Free Social Media Evaluation, Free Social Media Care and Feeding, and Free Advice

Would you like to get FREE advice on how to start and/or improve the social media impact of your organization or brand? And help train the next generation of social media/UX designers?

I am an Adjunct Professor at the University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point. Starting in September of 2018 I’m teaching a course on Social Media. From the course description:

“Topics will include: the behavioral science of social communication online, the user experience of social media, legal and ethical issues in social media, and strategies for effectively using social media for growing a business and/or community. Student teams will work on case studies with actual organizations and companies to plan social media strategies, as well as experience the “care and feeding” of social media communities. Diverse applications will include, healthcare, wellness, tech, and non-profits.”

In the class we will use real life case studies. A team of 3-4 students will be assigned to a client. They will perform a Social Media Audit and make suggestions for changes to improve the impact of the existing social media, if any, and suggest changes for adding new social media channels. The teams will also be responsible for the “care and feeding” of one or more social media channels for the case study organization thoughout the semester.

If you have a social media existing channel that you would like evaluated and/or if you would like to start a social media campaign for your organizaiton, then you can apply to be a team case study. If chosen you receive free advice  and you will be helping to train the next generation of social media and UX designers.

What you should expect:

  • You will  spend about 2-3 hours a month for September, October, November and December working working with your team. This will be via email, Skype and/or teleconference. You will be speaking with them about your company/organization, your social media goals and giving them feedback on the  advice that they prepare for you.
  • At the end of the semester you will have suggestions for how to start, increase, and/or improve your social media.

Here are the requirements:

  • You have an existing or shortly to be deployed company or organization.
  • You have existing social media accounts and/or are ready to establish new ones. These accounts must work in English.
  • You or a member(s) of your team have time to meet with the team remotely, answer their questions and give feedback in a timely manner.

Here’s what you need to submit in an email to: susan@theteamw.com

  • Your Name:
  • Your Contact Info:
  • Brief Description of the company/organization
  • Brief Description of your current social media use
  • Social media goals or changes if you know them
  • Anything else you think we should know:

Let me know if you have questions, and thanks in advance for submitting your product for a possible evaluation. We will look through all applications submitted and get back to you in early September.

Thanks!

Susan Weinschenk, Ph.D.

Episode 12: Individualist Societies vs. Collectivist Societies

Okay this one is a tough one. It’s kind of complicated, but it’s worth it, trust me. We mostly talk about how humans work biologically and in which ways that influences our decisions. That is somewhat the field of the behavioral science. But beyond biology that is consistent across all humans there are also cultural and societal differences, along with age and gender, and so on, that also have an impact.

I don’t want to leave these out! Today’s topic explores whether there are cultural and societal differences in decision making through a paper on individualistic societies verses collectivism societies.

Cialdini, Wosinska, Barrett, Butner and Gornik-Durose wrote a paper in 1999 entitled Compliance with a Request in Two Cultures. They compared social decision making between the United States and Poland with the emphasis on examining what they call “social proof”; or the idea that you examine the behavior of others, especially similar others, to determine the appropriate behavior for yourself.

Individualistic societies tend to define the self as autonomous and independent from groups.

Collectivistic societies tend to define the self more in terms of group membership.

The theory is that you can invoke behavior (in their study they used whether you’d go out of your way to help someone else) by using different strategies in different societies. It makes sense that different societies would respond differently to requests for help depending on how the request was presented.

But you still have to study it! Okay so here’s the experiment they set up. This was a 2 x 3 x 2 conditional study. Lots of conditions so it’s a little complicated. The bottom line is that participants were asked to do a task and answer a survey.

The first 2 conditions were Poland vs. the United States. They did the Study in both places to see if there was a difference.

The next 3 conditions were using different degrees of social influence: either high, medium, or low.

To measure the intensity of social influence, participants indicated their willingness to comply three different times. Once when all other classmates had agreed to take the questionnaire (high social), once when half agreed (medium social), and once when no one else agreed (low social).

The last 2 conditions used the survey answers.

Half the participants were told to do the survey while considering their peers (group focus), and half were told to only consider themselves (individualism focus).

Again, it was a 2 x 3 x 2 conditional experiment by using the categories Poland vs. US, the amount of social pressure or influence used, and social influence vs. individualism.

What the researchers found was that there were similar effects. When there was more social influence (everyone else around had taken the survey), people were more willing to also take the survey. That’s not surprising and we’ll get into a lot more research about social pressure later.

What was interesting is that the strength of the impact differed. Social pressure was more effective in Poland, and using individualism was more effective in the US. This is most likely because the US has more individualism and Poland more collectivism generally, in their society.

Also, the effect on collectivists could be canceled by a making the person focus on themselves, rather than the group. To quote from the paper:

“In sum, the predicted tendency of collectivists to be more willing than individualists to perform a collaborative task was canceled by a prior focus on oneself rather than on one’s group as a standard for decision.”

Now one small caveat, the study is from 1999, when Poland was much closer to the USSR than it is today. Regardless, the main point is that society matters. It’s often hard to measure, but there are interregional differences that do make a difference.

In practical takeaways then, don’t assume that just because a strategy works in Chicago that it will be as effective in other cultures. There often will be overlap, but sometimes not.

Specifically, if you are trying to use social pressure to drive action, use social pressures more often and with a higher priority in societies that are more collectivism and group focused (like Eastern Europe or Japan). If you want people to succumb to social pressure, make sure their focus is not on themselves as it can cancel the push to do a collective task.

If you want people to reject social pressure, try and direct their focus onto themselves as a person before they are exposed to the social pressure. It can negate the effect.

In societies that are more individualistic like the US, you can drive action more through a story of self-consistency than group action. Social pressure is still effective, but it is not as effective.

Again, the impact of the effects will change based on the specific circumstances.

So try it out! Let me know how it goes. This is a pretty nuanced subject so hopefully it was decently explained.

 

Cialdini, R. B., Wosinska, W., Barrett, D. W., Butner, J., & Gornik-Durose, M. (1999). Compliance with a Request in Two Cultures: The Differential Influence of Social Proof and Commitment/Consistency on Collectivists and Individualists. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin25(10), 1242-1253. doi:10.1177/0146167299258006

How Trust Affects Creative Collaboration


Logo for HumanTech podcast
Control freaks and psychological safety — We brought Eric Olive on the podcast as a guest to talk about the science of decisions and we ended up talking about control and safety. How do you create an environment of psychological safety? And how does that encourage creative collaboration?

Eric has also offered a list of articles and books for more reading which we’ve added below.

You can reach Eric at:

uiuxtraining.com
eric@uiuxtraining.com

Articles

A Leader’s Framework for Decision Making by David J. Snowden and Mary E. Boone HBR November 2007

Fooled by Experience by Emre Soyer and Robin M. Hogarth

Leaders as Decision Architects by John Beshears and Francesca Gino— Harvard Business Review. Structure your organization’s work to encourage wise choices.

“Organizing and the Process of Sensemaking”, Organization Science, vol. 16, no. 4, pp. 409-421.

“The Identification of Solution Ideas During Organizational Decision Making,” Management Science 39: 1071–85. Paul C. Nutt (1993),

“Surprising but True: Half the Decisions in Organizations Fail,” Academy of Management Executive 13: 75–90. Paul C. Nutt, 1999.

Only for HBR (Harvard Business Review) Subscribers

Before You Make That Big Decision by Daniel Kahneman, Dan Lovallo, and Olivier Sibony. Harvard Business Review.

The Hidden Traps in Decision Making by John S. Hammond, Ralph L. Keeney, and Howard Raiffa. Harvard Business Review, January 2006.

Books

A More Beautiful Question by Warren Berger

Beyond Greed and Fear by Hersh Shefrin

Decisive by Dan and Chip Heath

Educating Intuition by Robin Hogarth

Focus by Daniel Goleman

How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer

Intuition at Work by Gary Klein

Nudge by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein

Seeing what Others Don’t by Gary Klein

The Art Of Thinking Clearly by Rolf/Griffin Dobelli

Winning Decisions by J. Edward Russo and Paul J.H. Schoemaker’

 

Human Tech is a podcast at the intersection of humans, brain science, and technology. Your hosts Guthrie and Dr. Susan Weinschenk explore how behavioral and brain science affects our technologies and how technologies affect our brains.

You can subscribe to the HumanTech podcast through iTunes, Stitcher, or where ever you listen to podcasts.

Episode 11: Status Quo Bias


Hey, here’s a suggestion. Go workout. Right now. Go! Whatever you do, pound iron, run super hard, walk around the block; whatever it is, go get after it for half an hour. Okay bye!

Hey so that was great? Did you do the workout? Right now, did you actually get up and change whatever you were doing and work out?

I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that you didn’t do that! I’m going to guess you just stuck with the status quo. And that’s status quo bias.

In a paper entitled “Status quo bias in decision making” by Samuelson and Zeckhauser, they do an exhaustive summary of a ton of studies. A metric ton of studies. I shall quote the conclusion from their study of studies:

“In choosing among alternatives individuals display a bias toward sticking with the status quo.”

If you want to call this human laziness, if you want to call this human biology to conserve energy, call it what you will. But humans much prefer the current situation to stay as is. We don’t like when odds, circumstances, prospects, or anything else change.

There’s a theory that dopamine is not just our pleasure chemical, rather it is our seeking chemical, we’ll go seek new adventures and experiences and pleasure with it, rather than the other way around.

What are some ways you can take advantage of this? Assume change is going to be hard. Anyone who has tried to get a department to switch to a new version of software or a different program knows the pain. Assume that someone needs an impetus to take an action. If you want someone to switch from something to something else, give them a point of action or a trigger so they are forced to reevaluate their decision. On the flip side, if you don’t want people to make a change, don’t rock the boat. Don’t give them an opportunity to make a change. Just keep rolling same old same old.

People will still take action if the status quo becomes too much to handle… But when in doubt people will stick with the status quo.

 

Samuelson, W., & Zeckhauser, R. (1988). Status quo bias in decision making. Journal of Risk and Uncertainty1(1), 7-59. doi:10.1007/bf00055564

Episode 10: How Sunk Costs Work

One of, if not the most, important motivator in behavioral economics is the fear of loss. We’ve talked about this extensively and it takes many different shapes. One of my personal favorites is what’s known as a “sunk cost”.

Compared to a lot of behavioral economics terms this is pretty popular and well known, but just in case let me mind-journey for you.

You’re really hungry. It’s a hot Chicago summer day and you’ve had a long day at work.

On your walk home on the corner is a friendly neighborhood torta foodtruck. Oh my god. You love tortas. The thought of savory Mexican jamon (ham), topped with avocado and all the fixings with amazing green chili hot sauce and crema between bread carries you away. The smell hits you and you’re again reminded that there is a god. The cost is $8 for a sandwich. Even though you have leftovers at home that you can eat, you decide to stop and order one. You’re hungry and it’s after work; time to treat yourself (#treatyoself).

You wait in line, pay your $8 cash, and get your perfect torta. Warm juices of salsa and jamon dribble down the sides. Your mouth waters. However, unbeknownst to you, years of freezing ground has pushed up a part of the sidewalk by 3 inches. Your foot catches the ledge and your perfect torta flies out of your hand into a dirty puddle; gone forever.

You turn around and there’s now a line around the block to get another one. What do you do? If you had not just already stood in line for forever you would have been overjoyed to stand in line and pay $8 for a torta. But dejected you droop your head and go home to your leftovers.

Okay! Mind-journey over. What is interesting about that story is that if you wrote a computer program that would make decisions for you the calculation is different than what happened in real life.

You were hungry and willing to wait in line and pay money for a torta. You lost a torta so you didn’t eat one and are still just as hungry. Your situation hasn’t changed, and a computer program would say that humans would get back in line and wait again.

But your lost torta is a sunk cost. You paid for it, and it’s gone. In theory, sunk costs should have no impact on your next decision. It’s sunk, it’s gone. But, of course it has an impact on your decision-making process. It shouldn’t but it does.

It’s partially because we humans have a fear of loss, and partially because we have trouble segmenting time and decisions. We lump things together. So even though the calculation should be would I pay $8 for a torta, because we’ve already lost one we can’t help feeling like we’re paying $16 for one torta, even though that previous loss is immaterial to our next decision.

This effect creeps up all over the place. We’ll talk about it more later, with for example the gamblers fallacy, where gamblers feel that if they’re on a losing streak they should keep gambling because their luck is going to turn around…

Okay so how does this idea manifest itself? When humans make decisions, they can weigh the emotional experience of a sunk cost as value and make what on paper is an “irrational” choice. Or a choice that is against their own self-interest.

There are a lot of great papers about real life experiments demonstrating the effect. I’ll stick with one by Arkes and Blumer from 1985, The Psychology of Sunk Cost. They asked a series of questions. Here’s a slightly modified version of the first experiment:

“You have spent $100 on a ticket for a weekend ski trip to Michigan. Several weeks later you buy a $50 ticket for a weekend ski trip to Wisconsin.

You think you will enjoy the Wisconsin ski trip more than the Michigan ski trip. Suddenly you realized your just-purchased Wisconsin ski trip is the same weekend as the Michigan trip! It’s too late to sell either ticket, and you cannot return either one. You must use one ticket and not the other. Which ski trip will you go on?

$100 ski trip to Michigan OR $50 ski trip to Wisconsin?”

Think about it and write your answer down.

THE ANSWER SHOULD ALWAYS BE WISCONSIN!

It literally says, “you think you will enjoy the Wisconsin ski trip more”.  Forget the price or what you purchased. The Wisconsin trip is the better trip! Go on the better vacation! Why would any pick a worse vacation?

Of course, 54% of respondents picked the Michigan vacation, and only 46% picked Wisconsin.

People who pick the Michigan trip say it’s because they don’t want to “waste the money.” But that money is already gone. It was spent and is a sunk cost.

Obviously, a fascinating result. And there are other questions that are variations on this theme.

The other interesting result was an experiment researchers did at the Ohio University Theater. People who bought season tickets were put into one of three conditions. One group got the normal price, one got a $2 discount (on each $15 ticket), and the third got each ticket for $7.

Results? The no-discount group used significantly more tickets (4.11) than both the $2 discount group (3.32) and the $7 discount group (3.29); but only for the first half of the season. There was no significant difference in the second half.

Now there are potentially a few factors at play. The first is sunk cost. After purchasing a season pass, those that paid full price felt compelled to go and not “waste money”. Even though it’s a sunk cost. Those who paid less had a smaller sunk cost effect.

The second main factor that may be operating is that people who pay more may give the concert tickets a higher value. The higher value is because it’s “worth” more for those who bought at full price than those who bought at reduced price.

Either way, the fact that the effect was time limited and faded after a few months is another interesting twist. The study doesn’t present a causal link, but there are a number of behavioral economics effects that seem to fade over time.

The takeaway here is that the sadness of a sunk cost may fade over time, and eventually fades away to a point where it truly is sunk. Maybe it’s just people’s way of processing grief. I know this author would grieve a lost torta.

So again, your mileage may vary. The effect may be strongest at the moment of “sunk” (think torta on the ground). And then its magnitude (technically amplitude) fades over time as the person goes through acceptance.

What are some real world applications?

Use the fear of sunk costs to stop customers from switching. Try breaking a payment in half or into smaller payments, and make each payment final.  For example, tell the customer that they can’t complete the training without finishing the entire payment. This will trigger the fear of loss due to a sunk cost. The customers will want to pay to finish the training.

Conversely, if a customer feels like their payment has been wasted somehow, they will be much less likely re-up to get back to their starting position. This can generate a lot of negative emotions; even if it’s not even your fault.

For example, let’s say someone gets $800 of car work done and then the next week finds out that they need another $800 done on a different part of the car. They’ll be very hesitant to do so because of the sunk cost even though the two are unrelated. They should pay for both repairs, but the sunk cost and fear of loss will make them warry of spending more.

So that’s sunk costs. I hope you sunk some effort and energy into this topic! You’ll never get it back; it’s sunk.

On a personal note. This can apply to relationship and other personal feelings too. Letting go is hard. It’s a feeling of loss that we can’t get back. It really sucks. But this author’s personal advice is to take a deep breath and remind yourself that a sunk cost is gone. It’s just that; sunk and unsalvageable. You can’t get it back, and feeling bad about things doesn’t help anything. Use some mental scissors. Clip away the old circumstances and make your current situation the only factor that matters and make your decision from there. It’s the best way to move forward; even if it’s hard to do.

 

Arkes, H. R., & Blumer, C. (1985). The psychology of sunk cost. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes35(1), 124-140. doi:10.1016/0749-5978(85)90049-4

Episode 9: What Are Heuristics?

I have a confession to make. It took me years to understand the concept of heuristics. I don’t know why. I mean, I’m a smart guy, who obviously understands this economic mumbo-jumbo far better than the ordinary person. And heuristics is/are one of the foundational ideas of behavioral economics.

Maybe it’s the name. Too Greek? A lot of behavioral economists who have written books explaining some of these ideas to the masses have done a pretty good job at explaining heuristics. I like the summary behavioraleconomics.com uses. They define a heuristic as a cognitive shortcut, a process in which a person substitutes a difficult question with an easy one (they cite Kahneman, D. (2003)). Maps of bounded rationality: Psychology for behavioral economics. The American Economic Review, 93, 1449-1475.).

We humans do this intellectually, but also athletically. Let me give you an example by way of a mind-journey.

You’re back in 7th grade playing little league softball. It’s the summer tournament and it’s the first game of the summer season. Mid-afternoon, warm sunshine, pretty grass. Your parents are in the stands, though you will of course completely ignore them all game (you’re cool).

You’ve been at a few practices before the first game and the coach has enough sense to figure out, even at this early stage, that you’re not going to make it to the majors… So out to the outfield you go. That said, you’re not the worst person on the team, so at least they don’t put you in left field (left daydream more-like), they put you in right.

So far the game has gone pretty smoothly. It’s 2-1, your team is up in the middle of the third inning. You’ve already been up to bat, and actually managed to softly dribble a ground ball into the outfield and got on base! Made it over to second but then it was three outs, and you didn’t get to score.

Every little league team has that one kid that actually is good. Just far and away better at softball than other kids. Early puberty I suppose. Good hand-eye coordination. Parents are big into sports. Well they are now up at the plate and you’re a little nervous. So far no one has hit a ball to you. It’s little league and you’re in the outfield. Most runs are scored on errors throwing to first base. But this kid… Could launch one out to you and everyone will be watching. There are already two people on base, first and second, so it’s a big moment in the game.

Nervously you wait. Ball one. Strike one. Ball two. Next pitch is crushed. Right field. A high arcing sky-high hit. Now you’ve backed up a fair way, and no one hits home runs (it’s 7th grade), so it’s going to be up to you to catch it.

If a computer programmer, an engineer, or an economist were faced with this problem of getting your glove to the same spot of where the ball is projected to land (well, right before it lands), they would do the only thing that makes sense. The moment the ball is hit you can clearly see the flight trajectory. Based on the speed of the ball and the angle it is hit off the bat there is a clear concave flight pattern. You calculate the flight path, adjust slightly for wind, and determine the exact location the ball will land. Run to that spot, wait for the ball, and catch it when it gets to your glove. Easy peasy.

But if a human attempts to do that calculation in real time they always miss the ball. Human perception will misjudge the exact velocity.  The ark and weight of the ball will change how it falls, so it won’t be perfectly uniform. Wind and air humidity will influence exactly where it will land. The precision required to calculate where it will land is immense! Further, an outfielder needs to be precise to maybe 5 square inches. Maybe even 5 square centimeters.

It’s a nearly impossible problem for the human brain to solve in the 5 seconds of flight time. So humans don’t solve it. We take a short cut. We use a heuristic.

Right now (do this), put your hand up in front of you as if you were going to catch a pop fly. As long as your glove is “blocking” the ball as it’s in the air, you’re in the right place.

Imagine if you saw the ball under your glove, you’re too far back, it will fall in front of you. Conversely, imagine the ball is much higher than your glove, you’re too far forward, it’ll land over your head. And the same left or right. So long as you keep the ball at the same “spot” in your field of vision, you’re going to catch it. If it’s not at the correct height, or left/right, you need to run to get it back into position.

No humans calculate flight trajectories to figure out where the ball will land. They just use a thousand little, quick micro-adjustments to keep the ball at the right angle in air. And at the last second make a slight adjustment before it gets to the glove for the final placement. It’s a much easier calculation.

So this is what you do. Luckily you don’t have to move too far, just run a little in and towards your left. Even with the sun out you can see the ball, you track it, keeping it at a consistent angle. The “correct” angle says your brain. With your glove out, you let you reflexes take over at the last instant, moving the glove over ever so slightly, to correct the errors leftover from your heuristic. Instead of a huge error of maybe 30 meters, you’ve narrowed it down to a fraction of a meter.

You catch the ball. Overjoyed and excited you can’t help but look over to your parents who both gasp and clap and smile. You try to pretend you don’t see them because, duh, you are still being cool. The crowd claps and the other team groans that you didn’t drop it. But no one really cares except your parents, I mean, you’re in right field, it’s your job to catch balls that come to you. What sort of right fielder would you be if you missed fly balls? But you did it, another day another dollar. Your unconscious brain is trying to get your attention. Something you’re forgetting?

Oh! That’s right, we’re playing softball I need to throw it back into the infield! You do, and your throw is horribly off target and short by like 15 feet. But this is softball in 7th grade. No one is stealing bases. The second basement trots out to grab your pathetic attempt at a fastball and relays it to the pitcher who also drops the ball. Again. Softball, in 7th grade.

Play resumes and the parents continue to talk about this cool place they found out in the country that makes its own Chardonnay!

Ah yes, little league softball, those were the days…

Snap back to reality. Oh, there goes gravity (as an example). Oh, there goes Guthrie, he overwrote, you’re so mad, but he won’t give up that easy, no, just gotta lose yourself in the mind-journey, don’t you ever let it go. You only got one chance, do not, drop the ball. Use a heuristic! (The author groaned with he saw he had wrote this, but decided to keep it in because it’s so groan worthy…)

The process of catching a softball is a simple explanation of a heuristic and how it works.

Heuristics can be cognitive as well as physical. In fact, perhaps the most important heuristics you will come across are cognitive. Educated guesses, intuitive judgements, guesstimates, profiling, stereotyping, or most mental shortcuts are all examples of heuristics.

Here’s a quick example:

You are in charge of designing the new website for your small business. Your boss comes to you and asks you, “Should the main menu be horizontal or vertical? “

To truly figure out the correct answer would take modeling, and user testing, and analytics and all sorts of tough thinking. But you can simply say horizontal because you’ve seen other websites with horizontal menus and you like them. You’ve used a heuristic to save a lot of time and decide.

There is often a perception that taking a heuristic shortcut is bad, or lazy. But there is research that suggests that you can get better results if you use a heuristic.

I want to talk about the “take-the-best” and the “recognition” heuristic as described by Gigerenzer and Gaissmaier in Heuristic Decision Making in 2011 and Models of ecological rationally: The recognition heuristic by Goldstein and Gigerenzer from 2002.

They very carefully outline the model of the take-the-best heuristic.

Here’s how the (very simple) take-the-best heuristic works:

You’re forced to pick between two choices. One of the choices “feels” good. Don’t think about it, just pick it. That’s all there is to it.

The reason this works is because the alternative with the positive cue (“feels good”) has a higher value. Pick it, trust your unconscious and move on.

The recognition heuristic is basically the same as take-the-best, but with a slight difference. When faced with a choice don’t pick what “feels” the best but pick whichever answer you recognize first.

Most of the time when you use the recognition heuristic you will end up with the same result as if you use take-the-best. This is because answers that come to you quickly often feel the best, and answer you recognize will come to you more quickly.

It may seem weird that using these simple heuristics would actually lead you to a right answer more often than if you think about it. But let me tell you very briefly about the research.

In their studies the researchers asked people two questions. The first was to pick which German cities had larger populations, and the second which mammal lifespans were longer.

German Cities and Mammal Lifespans
German Cities and Mammal Lifespans

They then told participants to use all sorts of various tactics to make their decision. The take-the-best heuristic got the best results as you can see on the graph in Figure 1 (each line on the graph is a different model, the higher the lines the better the accuracy).

The researchers later gave a question about German city size and then American city size. They asked most participants to use the recognition heuristic (if you recognize it, choose it).

Here’s the crazy part, German participants did better on the American cities test than German cities, and Americans did better on German cities than American cities!

Sometimes when you go with your gut, it really is the best choice. By overthinking the answer using more knowledge about cities in their own country people got worse results.

From these results the researchers came up with the very short and simple “fast and frugal” rules you can use to come to better answers, quickly.

First, search for clues, or information that would be useful in making a decision.

Second, stop searching when the costs of further search exceed the benefits. That is to say, stop searching when simple searches fail to provide you with useful information. Excess information is bad; you only want the bare minimum.

And third, make an inference or decision when the search is stopped. Don’t think too hard about it; just make a decision and move on.

Even though that sounds silly and not well thought out, it can often lead to better results than a long-drawn-out process.

We’ll cover more studies later about why heuristics often can create more accurate answers even though they take less thought and effort.

The short answer is that using a heuristic stops your brain from consciously thinking too much. The more you consciously think, the more your biases get in the way. And the more you are misguided by your cognitive biases, the easier it is to come to the wrong result.

If you take the fast and easy solution you skip that whole process.

In conclusion, here are some real-world takeaways:

It’s important to know what a heuristic is and how people think. We use these all the time, but it’s okay! Shortcuts for humans sometimes work best.

Don’t overthink things, it can be less accurate and takes much longer.

Utilize “fast and frugal” heuristic rules when you need to be relatively accurate quickly and en masse.

Let me know if you have seen too much thinking get in the way of the best result.

 

 

Goldstein, D. G., & Gigerenzer, G. (2002). Models of ecological rationality: The recognition heuristic. Psychological Review109(1), 75-90. doi:10.1037//0033-295x.109.1.75

Gigerenzer, G., & Gaissmaier, W. (2011). Heuristic Decision Making. Annual Review of Psychology62(1), 451-482. doi:10.1146/annurev-psych-120709-145346

The Intersection of Multitasking, Flow State and Mindfulness on the Human Tech Podcast


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You’ve probably heard (maybe too many times) how multitasking is not a good thing for your productivity. In this episode of Human Tech we share the myths and truths of multitasking and also explore the relationship between multitasking, the flow state, and mindfulness.

In the episode we talk about a video where you can test out your multitasking abilities. Here’s the video:

We also mention our latest online video course, The Science of Productivity if you want to check that out.

Human Tech is a podcast at the intersection of humans, brain science, and technology. Your hosts Guthrie and Dr. Susan Weinschenk explore how behavioral and brain science affects our technologies and how technologies affect our brains.

You can subscribe to the HumanTech podcast through iTunes, Stitcher, or where ever you listen to podcasts.

Episode 8: Time Discounting and Time Preference


What is the nature of time? Oh how I love Carl Sagan. But we’re not talking about spacetime, rather, we’re talking about humantime. Or how humans value time.

How humans perceive time is a tricky question, and one that I am not going to answer today. Too much unknown and unexplored psychology and not enough behavioral economics. Maybe how humans perceive time is a more interesting question, I’m not sure.

But what is easier to measure is how much you are willing to be paid to wait. In that way you can put a value on how much it is worth to get something sooner. This will be my first post in a series on time and what economists call time discounting.

Time discounting as an economic concept is pretty simple. I can pay $6 to get an online order to me today, or $5 to receive it tomorrow. There’s a discount if I wait.

In later posts I’m going to dig into some of the specific research that gives some concrete numbers on time discounting. But today I am going to stick with the theoretical.

Just like you can make a choice between things, you can make a choice to give or get something between times. The technical term for this is “intertemporal choices”. In “Time Discounting and Time Preference: A Critical Review” by Frederick, Loewenstein and O’Donoghue they define intertemporal choices as decisions involving tradeoffs among costs and benefits, that occur at different times. Choice means choice, intertemporal means between times.

How have economists dealt with this problem in the past? Like the rest of economics, the answer is they did so by oversimplifying the situation. Let’s start with the idea of discount utility because it’s very straightforward. Mind journey!

It’s a nice crisp fall day and you know what time of year it is… Pumpkin latte season! Your favorite. As you walk into your neighborhood coffee shop you can smell the strong aroma of nutmeg and pumpkin pie spice drift over you. You check the big board menu for ideas but let’s be honest; you’re getting your first pumpkin latte of the year and you’re really excited about it.

After waiting your turn in line, you give your order to the barista. At checkout you’re asked if you would like your order right now, or tomorrow. “Say what?” you ask. “Well, we’re giving you a choice. We can give you your order now, or you can choose to pick it up tomorrow. It’s the same price, and you have to pay now regardless of your choice”.

Ummm… You’re getting that latte right then and there. It’d be silly to wait until tomorrow! But what if they gave you a discount off your bill, say, $1 to wait until tomorrow. Or $2. At some point they can bribe you enough to wait.

That’s what is called your discount utility: the amount of value (utility) that you derive from getting your latte that instant.

Further, let’s assume you’re willing to take $1 to wait one day. The assumption in the old economics world is that time preferences are linear. Therefore, if you would take $1 to wait one day, then you would accept $2 to wait two days.

There are many psychology research studies that suggest that the discount utility model of time is wrong, and, in fact, in “Time Discounting and Time Preference: A Critical Review”, they painstakingly look at academic evidence for the traditional view of discount utility. And conclude that the old model has little empirical support.

“Economics has always been both an art and a science” says the paper’s authors. And that is a statement this author also agrees with. Simple discount utility is far too simple to accurately model human behavior.

This idea is only the tip of the iceberg.  There is research that shows that dopamine is released in anticipation of a reward, not when a reward is actually received (CITE), so sometimes it’s more fun and addictive to be forced to wait.

Here’s a video where Sapolsky goes through this research: http://library.fora.tv/2011/02/15/Robert_Sapolsky_Are_Humans_Just_Another_Primate

Humans certainly don’t value time linearly, and there are a lot of behavioral science papers about that I’ll be discussing later in this series. Briefly, making me wait one week is going to be expensive. But making me wait 10 weeks is not going to be 10x as expensive. It’s at least not linear.

And then there are the other wonderful human traits of scheming, plotting, planning, investing, gratification, and being lazy. There are a lot of competing factors about how we value time.

Frederick, Loewenstein and O’Donoghue encourage economists to abandon using the fundamental idea of discount utility altogether since it doesn’t seem to line up with what is happening in human heads. I quote from the paper:

“In sum, we believe that economists’ understanding of intertemporal choices will progress most rapidly by continuing to import insights from psychology, by relinquishing the assumption that the key to understanding intertemporal choices is finding the right discount rate (or even the right discount function), and by readopting the view that intertemporal choices reflect many distinct considerations and often involve the interplay of several competing motives.”

Sorry for the long, complicated paragraph, but I feel it is a great summary. Use insights from psychology. Stop trying to find a magical discount formula. Accept the messiness and strangeness of human decision making.

That’s great you may say, but if not discount utility, then what?

There is a competing way to define time discounting in economics and it’s called hyperbolic discounting. Pardon the name. But it’s a general understanding that human discounting is not time-consistent. Humans probably don’t even perceive time linearly, or consistently; much less value it that way. Its value is random and weird, just like humans.

Sure, there might be patterns that behavioral economists can find, but humans just don’t value or devalue things in linear, simple ways. It’s messy.

Again, I plan on talking about more specifics about how behavioral economists should think about humans and how we value time. But for now I just wanted to cover the big idea of even thinking about how to measure the value of time using economics.

In sum, if you are working on anything that involves time passing, don’t assume that there will be a lot of rational consistency in how people value waiting.

Frederick, S., Loewenstein, G., & O’Donoghue, T. (2002). Time Discounting and Time Preference: A Critical Review. Journal of Economic Literature40(2), 351-401. doi:10.1257/002205102320161311

Fiorello: Fiorillo C. D., Tobler P. N., Schultz W. (2003). Discrete coding of reward probability and uncertainty by dopamine neurons. Science 299, 1898–1902 10.1126/science.1077349 [PubMed] [Cross Ref] (dopamine anticipation)

Design In Sweden


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In this podcast episode we talk with Johan Berndtsson about design and business in Sweden. Johan invites listeners to submit suggestions for speakers for his next “From Business To Buttons Conference” and also invites people to come do design work in Sweden.

Throughout the podcast we refer to videos, give web addesses and so on. Here is the list of links and recommendations from Johan:

Check out Europe’s greatest Business, Service, and UX-design conference, From Business to Buttons at https://frombusinesstobuttons.com/, and the videos from past conferences at  https://frombusinesstobuttons.com/archive . All of them are excellent, but be sure to watch:

  • Jared Spool
  • Mike Monteiro (both talks)
  • Kim Goodwin (both talks)
  • Eric Meyer
  • Golden Krishna
  • Patricia Moore, and of course
  • Susan Weinschenk

Also, if you want to learn more about inUse check us out at http://www.inuseexperience.com, and e-mail johan.berndtsson@inuse.se if you have questions or if you’re interested in joining.

Further reading:

The story behind the conference: http://www.inuseexperience.com/blog/story-behind-business-buttons/

Thoughts behind UX and Service Design moving out into the physical world: http://www.inuseexperience.com/blog/experiences-services-and-space/

A template for the Impact Map, our perhaps best tool to connect business goals to user behavior and design: http://www.inuseexperience.com/blog/template-impact-maps-here/

The history behind the Impact Map (http://www.inuseexperience.com/blog/evolution-impact-mapping/) and how it has evolved over the years (http://www.inuseexperience.com/blog/evolution-impact-mapping/).

And… The invitation for designers to come to Sweden: http://www.inuseexperience.com/blog/dear-us-designers-welcome-sweden/

Human Tech is a podcast at the intersection of humans, brain science, and technology. Your hosts Guthrie and Dr. Susan Weinschenk explore how behavioral and brain science affects our technologies and how technologies affect our brains.

You can subscribe to the HumanTech podcast through iTunes, Stitcher, or where ever you listen to podcasts.