Taming Your Inner Homer Simpson

My Kellogg students will remember that I asked them to rate their intelligence vis-a-vis the average member of the class. I routinely had 75 percent of all student who rate themselves above average. That is 25% too many. A colleague of mine warned me that 90% academics feel undervalued by their institution. But until now I read Dahlia Lithwick review of Richard Thaler’s and new book Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness I did not know that 94 percent of professors at large universities to believe themselves better than the “average professor.” Read Lithwick excellent review of the book.

The Latest Reasoning about our Irrational Ways

Elizabeth Kolbert reviews in the New Yorker the latest on findings on how people behave in irrational ways when making economic decisions.  Read her Reviews of two new books.
“Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions” (Harper; $25.95); by Ariely, Dan;
“Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness” (Yale; $25); by Thaler, Richard H.

Even the Best Cannot Predict the Future

It is very useful to recognize that the social world is too complex to predict well what will succeed and what will fail. Those who think they know with great certainty what will succeed run the danger of overinvesting in their pet scenarios. What is the lesson? Just like with stocks, we should always have a portfolio of beliefs about the future, reducing the risk of getting stuck with the wrong scenarios.

“I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.”
—Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, 1943

Computers in the future may weigh no more than 1.5 tons.”
    —Popular Mechanics, forecasting the relentless march of science, 1949

“I have traveled the length and breadth of this country and talked with the best people, and I can assure you that data processing is a fad that won’t last out the year.”
    —The editor in charge of business books for Prentice Hall, 1957

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The Freedom Tower Case: Why is group decision making not better individual decisions

Individual human beings have limited skills, knowledge,  and expertise can get carried away by emotions when making decisions. One would think that involving multiple people in a decision could overcome the limitations of individual decision making but social psycholgoists have long known that groups have their own limitations. The New York Times published a pertinent article on how a comittee came up with the redesigned Freedom Tower that architectual critics find dissappointing given the grandeur of the originial proposal.

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Four More Years of Happiness

Harvard pychology professor Daniel Gilbert predicts that most democrats will not be depressed during the next four years of George Bush. Here is the rationale that he offers in today’s New York Times: Research suggests that human beings have a remarkable ability to manufacture happiness. For example, when people in experiments are randomly awarded one of two equally valuable prizes, they quickly come to believe that the prize they won was more valuable than the prize they lost. They are often so surprised by their apparent good fortune that they refuse to believe the prize was awarded randomly, and they are generally unwilling to swap their prizes even when the experimenter offers to sweeten the deal with a little extra cash.

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Gladwell and Surowiecki Debate How Good Decisions are made

Galdwell and Surowiecki have a new books coming out concerned with good decision making. I am presently reading Surowieki’s The Wisdom of Crowds and have Blink on my reading list. You can read a debate they both had about their books in Slate

Experience Gestalt Pictures

My former student John Tsau forwarded me some other examples of pictures that can be seen in different ways. What we can see is to a large extent conditioned what we expect to see in the world in the first place…

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