February 25, 2013
News & Opinion: Sidetracked: Why Our Decisions Get Derailed...
You need to acknowledge that forces from within ourselves, forces from our relationships with others, and forces from the outside have powerful and predictable effects on our decisions. Consider that most of us have no trouble acknowledging that we do not know how our kidneys or other body parts work, and we are open to learning more about them, especially when we are sick. Too often, however, we assume that we know exactly what's going on in our minds when we face and make decisions, despite the fact that many of our past decisions have led to disappointing outcomes.
Let's be frank: it's easier to go through this world like a bull in a china shop. Making decisions and throwing our proverbial weight around, unconscious of the consequences. But doing that, Francesca Gino says, gets us sidetracked. It's little wonder that we rarely achieve the goals we set out for ourselves, and that our best intentions, laudable as they are, never get fulfilled. To prevent getting lost on our way toward a good result, we need to increase our awareness of "the forces at play when our choices end up colliding with our goals...."
Gino begins her book with three chapters that look at "Forces From Within," which can be translated into something like 'human nature.' We are naturally inclined, for example, to let our emotions affect our decision-making. We may not be aware that when our morning commute is delayed, we may, later on in the day, decide that a work project is taking too long getting to market, start chastening employees on their pace, and end up hurting the project in the long term. Gino elaborates:
Emotions can dramatically affect how we perceive and evaluate the world around us, yet the ways in which emotions influence our decisions are very subtle. Anger triggered by circumstances unrelated to the decision at hand can end up encouraging us to attack others' weak ideas. Other negative emotions, such as sadness, and positive emotions, such as gratitude and happiness, can have other, equally subtle effects.
The next section of the book focuses on "Forces from Our Relationships." As with each of her chapters, Gino uses numerous research experiments to prove just how influenced we are by our relationships with others. In one chapter, she advocates "perspective taking" and offers a quick little test for us all to take to learn whether or not we naturally take other people's perspectives into consideration. Take your dominant forefinger and draw an E on your forehead. If you drew it so that you can read it, you are not inclined to look first to others. If you drew it so others can read it, then you do. Perhaps this little test will encourage you to cultivate perspective taking. "When you are facing a decision that involves others, try to carefully analyze it from their perspective. Given that we are social beings, our plans are likely to involve others....So, the decisions we make when following through on our plans can easily be derailed by the failure to take others' perspective." The section also includes a chapter on a "feeling of connection" or, how being 'in' or 'out' affects our decisions, and also, "social comparisons" or, how our motivations change when compared to the performance of others.
The final section of Sidetracked tackles the "Forces from the Outside" which many of us probably fear the most. We feel pretty knowledgeable about our own minds (sometimes erroneously) and our relationships with other people (again, sometimes to a fault), but forces from without strike us as uncontrollable and sometimes unpredictable. Gino helps us to understand in "They're Not as Dumb as You Think They Are" why the "inability to adequately account for a wide range of situational factors when evaluating others helps to explain many of our most serious mistakes in life, and many derailed decisions." In other words, we often attribute or evaluate situations incorrectly due to bias or blindspots. In her chapter intriguingly titled, Traveling to Europe on Pudding, Gino explains how "...the effects of framing on motivation by discussing how framing can sway our decisions regarding how much effort to exert in completing a given task, from a reward program to one's own job....the subtle changes in framing can cause us to veer from our predetermined path." (The reward program referenced here is an offer by a food product company to provide airline mileage for every bar-code, from pudding and other items, redeemed.) The result? We are very willing to buy a heck of a lot of pudding if the reward is framed enticingly enough! Gino closes the section with a chapter titled "Cheaters in Sunglasses" in which she includes experiments that suggest that when no one is looking, we are all more likely to behave badly.
If you have always yearned to feel more secure in your decision-making, or at the very least, understand better why even your best-laid plans often go awry, Sidetracked is a straight-forward examination of the forces that affect our decisions which can help raise your awareness and keep you from veering off course.
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About Sally Haldorson
Sally Haldorson's job as 800-CEO-READ’s General Manager is to make 800-CEO-READ a great place to work for our employees, and a consistently high-performing customer service organization for our clients, authors, and our partners in the publishing industry. In addition to her General Manager duties ensuring collaboration, integration, and quality, she reads, writes, reviews, curates, and edits for the company. Helping craft The 100 Best Business Books of All Time used parts of both skill sets. Outside of work, she is most likely to be found hitting a tennis ball around or hanging out with her boys (husband, child, dog) at home.