The Undoing Project and Pasta Sauce

In my last post, I mentioned subsequent blogs would focus on the art of decision making.  I have always been fascinated with the psychology of decision making, and this interest was rekindled after reading “The Undoing Project”.  The book is written by Michael Lewis (“Moneyball”) and explores the friendship and scholarship of Israeli psychologists Amos Tversky and Danny Kahneman.  Their work revealed people, even really smart people, make irrational decisions.  People make poor decisions because they tend to ignore or minimize factual information, preferring to use their instincts.  We as educators are not immune to this phenomenon, but we can make better decision for students and staff by making a few simple adjustments.         

Work Collaboratively and Think Independently

Earlier this year I wrote about the dangers of groupthink.  This occurs when a group of people make decisions without dissenting viewpoints.   This is unfortunate because it is critical to examine multiple angles of every decision.  A classic example of groupthink is highlighted in “The Undoing Project”.  A team of trauma doctors assessed a car crash victim and discovered an irregular heartbeat.  They attributed this to the patient’s pre-existing thyroid condition.  The supervising physician acknowledged this was a possibility, but challenged the staff to think of a more probable cause for the irregular heartbeat.  Quickly, someone discovered the patient had a collapsed lung.  Once treated the condition improved.   Left untreated, the condition could have been deadly.  The doctor only asked two or three questions, but his well-timed questions were essential to the patient’s well-being.  Healthy group dynamics and a spirit of cooperation is critical for any team, but it should be accompanied by a culture of inquiry.  Ultimately, we should work collaboratively, think independently and….

Ask Good Questions

If you want to make sound decisions you must first ask good questions.  Recently, I listened to a  TED Radio Hour podcast entitled, “Decisions Decisions Decisions”.  The broadcast reinforced the importance of not only asking questions but asking the right questions.  Good questions are essential and help us gather information to guide our decisions.  However,  we frequently ask questions but forget to listen.  A good case study of this phenomenon is Howard Moscowitz and Prego pasta sauce.  Moscowitz,  a psychophysicist and market researcher, was commissioned by Prego to make their product more profitable.  Moscowitz found that Americans liked three different types of sauces: (a) spicy; (b) plain and (c) chunky.  Moscowitz discovered nearly a third of Americans preferred chunky sauces.  This was significant because you could not purchase chunky pasta sauce at this time.  Certainly, food companies conducted market research prior to Moscowitz’s findings, but they failed to ask the right questions.  By asking good questions and listening to respondents Moscowitz and Prego discovered an untapped market.  

Educators can make and encourage improved decision-making by fostering a spirit of inquiry and listening to their audience.  Too often, a better decision (or pasta sauce) is only a question away.

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