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Kamis, 19 Februari 2009

Having Options Doesn't Always Mean Good

Inspired by Dan Ariely's Predictably Irrational
Chapter 8: Keeping Doors Open: Why Options Distract Us from Our Main Objective

Do you like options? Financial options? Real options? O yes, everybody loves options. Although options indeed have values, we must be aware of their costs, in some case high costs. In relation to this issue, Dan Ariely and his colleagues devised a computer game, named The Door Game. Ah, what’s that? Before answering it, I’d like to ensure that in addition to loving options, you do love computer games. If not, probably this article is not interesting for you. OK, in short, The Door Game is a game of options.

You are in a computer screen. There are three doors provided for you to enter, the green door, the red door, and the blue door. You can enter a door then click as many times as you want inside it to receive a series of payoffs. Each door has its own range of payoffs, but in a single click, the payoff is somewhat random within its range. This makes it difficult for you to decide whether a door is better than another only by a single click or even by a few numbers of clicks. Like in real life, you can sense which option is better, but you are never 100% sure about it.

O wait. In real life, you die at some point in time. To simulate that real life situation, The Door Game gives you only 100 clicks. After you use all 100 clicks, the game is over and you will know your final total earning.

Now, consider this strategy. You try the green door and consume three clicks, then you enter the red door and consume three clicks, and then you enter the blue door and consume three clicks too. Based on your exploration using nine clicks, you decide the green door is the best so that you stay there forever until all clicks are used. The result is that you are among the best achiever. Easy? Yes indeed.

To make the game even similar to real life, Dan Ariely changed the game a little bit. If you do not visit a door in consecutive twelve clicks, the door will disappear. It’s like you date three persons and you forget to visit a particular person for a while. The ‘forgotten’ person will turn his / her back to you. In real life, the case will get worse if the person knows that you date other two persons. So it is far better not to do it.

Now, consider this finding. Dan Ariely invited a number of respondents, the bright students of MIT, to play the game. The result of a typical respondent, say Joe, will be something like this. Joe tries to explore the three doors like you did using your brilliant strategy. When he uses a number of clicks, he will discover that one of the doors is about to disappear. To maintain his options, Joe keeps visiting the ‘dying’ doors to make them all alive. In this case, a very smart MIT student, Joe fails to find the green door as his best choice. Why? The reason behind is that we human love to have many options, even if this behavior distracts our main objective. Wow, how irrational!

Dan Ariely again changed the game a bit. He introduced reincarnation. A door not visited in twelve clicks will still disappear. The gone door, however, can be brought to live again only by a single magic click. You may imagine that your best strategy will work now. In your surprise, a typical smart student of MIT recommits what Joe did. The fact that a door is about to disappear, although it can be brought live at anytime, makes us human keep trying to save it, even if this behavior should distract us from our goal. We do it only because we love having many options. HOW IRRATIONAL!

What lesson can we learn here?

1. We love having many options (like dating many persons at once), but we should be careful. Options can distract us from our main objectives, our happiness.
2. To stay focus, we may need to let go some doors and be serious on a few doors. This wisdom is like what Covey refers as wildly important goals or like what Collins refers as the hedgehog concept (see my other articles on those authors).
3. We need to have some way to value which doors most important to us (the big doors, like our spouses, our kids, our missions, etc.).
4. If we have two similar options, we shouldn’t waste time by thinking and analyzing too much. Either option can make us happy. Wasting time hinders us from satisfying our needs.
5. We shouldn’t race from alternatives to alternatives. It just wastes our time. See number 4.
6. If we have kids, we shouldn’t try to cram them with too many various activities. Neither their hobbies nor their areas of strength can be too many.
7. If we are allowed to marry four wives, consider marrying only one if we don’t have bold reasons at all.
8. If we are the lawmakers, the legislators, we shouldn’t waste our time in small differences on alternative policies (for example whether to allow CONTRENG OR CHECKING THE BALLOT only once, i.e. the name of the candidate person, or two, i.e. the name of the party and the name of the person).
9. If we are students, we shouldn’t have two conflicting majors.
10. If we are businessmen, we shouldn’t try all kinds of business.
11. If we are old gigs unmarried to someone, we should consider to marry soon with either good candidate (in Islam you need to marry your daughters soon to good moslems who propose them).
12. If we don’t know what we are best at and we are now forty, we need to forget some of our talents. We should focus on one or two.
13. If we have two plans for our projects, we shouldn’t waste time by comparing them all the time. We should choose one and just implement it.
The list continues
And last but not least, if we are dying, like we are all now, we need to first focus on our life after death then anything else submits to that highest priority.

Next: Bias Judgement
Prev: Ownership and Stewardship

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