Jay Cross
Jay Cross

New blog
Links & more

Subscribe with Bloglines
Enter your email address to subscribe to Internet Time Blog.

Autonomic Decision-Making
Wednesday, December 22, 2004
Most of the time, we delegate personal decisions to our mental autopilot systems. Otherwise, sensory overload would pitch us back to a baby's impression of the world "as one great blooming, buzzing confusion" as described by William James in The Principles of Psychology, and we'd be clueless about what was going on.

I bought a new book by Malcolm Gladwell, Blink. It comes out next month. The author says...
It's a book about rapid cognition, about the kind of thinking that happens in a blink of an eye. When you meet someone for the first time, or walk into a house you are thinking of buying, or read the first few sentences of a book, your mind takes about two seconds to jump to a series of conclusions. Well, Blink is a book about those two seconds, because I think those instant conclusions that we reach are really powerful and really important and, occasionally, really good.
Three years ago, I was fascinated to read an article by Gladwell that reported:
A person watching a two-second silent video clip of a teacher he has never met will reach conclusions about how good that teacher is that are very similar to those of a student who sits in the teacher's class for an entire semester. Apparently, human beings don't need to know someone in order to believe that they know someone.
The article reminded me of a caption in my college yearbook. Under a photo of the school's IBM 7094-II mainframe, it read "Princeton's new computers can predict a student's four-year GPA from College Board scores, making four years of study totally unecessary." Hmmm. How good are snap judgments? How much can we trust decisions made under extreme uncertainty?

I suspect that our blinders play a much larger role in life than we suspect. One of my white papers describes what really goes on in the head of a senior executive making a decision:
“Good Heavens, this effort is going to cost us $8 million. I wonder what Mikey thinks. I hope there's a cold Heineken in the fridge. The ROI is better than building another fab plant but some of the underlying numbers are soft. Why is the dog barking? Of course there’s no guarantee that the fab plant wouldn’t be another white elephant when it came on stream in three years. The breeze is picking up outside. I bet it rains tonight. Without eLearning, we’ll never become an eBusiness. Some of our systems are pretty creaky right now and would benefit from streamlining. Marcia better have packed my new Greg Norman golf shirt. We need to shrink cycle times throughout our organization. This eLearning infrastructure would give Charlie a platform for broadcasting his tirades about transforming our organization. The Net Discounted Cash Flow is $2 million better than if we took this on ourselves. And the real problem there is that our IT staff would be swamped. And this would wait in line behind the other "mission-critical" projects they’re working on. I wonder how Charlie feels. The ballgame comes on in about ten minutes. Where do I come out on this one? I’m optimistic about the potential. It feels right. I’ll support it at the Executive Committee Meeting on Monday.”
We're so accustomed to kidding ourselves that humans are rational decision makers that we forget that in the real world, unstated assumptions, emotions, hormones, and mental static frequently crowd out logic. I think, therefore where are my keys?

In the industrial age, Frederick Taylor told workers "You are not paid to think." In tomorrow's world of business, that's about all workers will be paid for. The pace of business will require everyone on the payroll to make decisions without consulting policy or the boss. As Gloria Gery says, workers will need to be able to "name that tune in one note."

Manufacturing jobs will be as scarce in the future as agricultural jobs are today. Workers won't be making things; they'll be making relationships productive. Lots of jobs will be as free-flowing and spontaneous as conversation. Imagine what it takes to prosper in such a job. Success in person-to-person, impromptu business will depend on making good judgment calls. Values and beliefs will drive work instead of rules and regulations. Workers will become proficient through acculturation, not training.

Since no one is reading this, on the last day of rampant consumerism before Christmas, I assume I can get away with turning to four attenuated philosophers* from yesteryear for a hint at how this will come about.
You who are on the road
Must have a code that you can live by
And so become yourself
Because the past is just a good bye.

Teach your children well,
Their father's hell did slowly go by,
And feed them on your dreams
The one they picked, the one you'll know by.

Don't you ever ask them why, if they told you, you would cry,
So just look at them and sigh and know they love you.
We have to be authentic in this. Transparent. Real. Confident to be ourselves. As the goddess** says,
Tears and fears and feeling proud to say I love you right out loud,
Dreams and schemes and circus crowds, I’ve looked at life that way.
But now old friends are acting strange, they shake their heads, they say
I’ve changed.
Something’s lost but something’s gained in living every day.
I'm pondering my life's mission. Well, the next year of it. I would like to make lots of people happy by helping them feel fulfilled and to bury vestiges of the outmoded thinking that is holding them back.
Well maybe it is just the time of year
Or maybe it's the time of man
I don't know who l am
But you know life is for learning.

*Crosby, Sills, Nash & Young

**Joni Mitchell

The Gladwell Archive

May 29, 2000
The New-Boy Network
What do job interviews really tell us?

Earlier this year, Myers attended a party for former Microsoft interns called Gradbash. Ballmer gave a speech there, and at the end of his remarks Myers raised his hand. "He was talking a lot about aligning the company in certain directions," Myers told me, "and I asked him about how that influences his ability to make bets on other directions. Are they still going to make small bets?" Afterward, a Microsoft recruiter came up to Myers and said, "Steve wants your E-mail address." Myers gave it to him, and soon he and Ballmer were E-mailing. Ballmer, it seems, badly wanted Myers to come to Microsoft. "He did research on me," Myers says. "He knew which group I was interviewing with, and knew a lot about me personally. He sent me an E-mail saying that he'd love to have me come to Microsoft, and if I had any questions I should contact him. So I sent him a response, saying thank you. After I visited Tellme, I sent him an E-mail saying I was interested in Tellme, here were the reasons, that I wasn't sure yet, and if he had anything to say I said I'd love to talk to him. I gave him my number. So he called, and after playing phone tag we talked--about career trajectory, how Microsoft would influence my career, what he thought of Tellme. I was extremely impressed with him, and he seemed very genuinely interested in me."

What convinced Ballmer he wanted Myers? A glimpse! He caught a little slice of Nolan Myers in action and--just like that--the C.E.O. of a four-hundred-billion-dollar company was calling a college senior in his dorm room. Ballmer somehow knew he liked Myers, the same way Hadi Partovi knew, and the same way I knew after our little chat at Au Bon Pain. But what did we know? What could we know? By any reasonable measure, surely none of us knew Nolan Myers at all.

"The brain structures that are involved here are very primitive," Ambady speculates. "All of these affective reactions are probably governed by the lower brain structures." What we are picking up in that first instant would seem to be something quite basic about a person's character, because what we conclude after two seconds is pretty much the same as what we conclude after twenty minutes or, indeed, an entire semester.


Post a Comment

<< Home

About Us | Contact Us | Home |

Powered by Blogger

Copyright 2005, Internet Time Group, Berkeley, California