[DADM] Weekly Reflections – Week 1 ‘Introduction and the Nature of Decisions’ P2

Sheldon Cooper on the difficulties of decision making in today’s world


  • This video reminds me of The checkout (would highly recommend!) which, in this particular video it demonstrates the disconnect between the research and the common consumer and how not only are consumers fighting against biases but there are huge corporations capitalising on our mental weaknesses and biases to influence our decision making (this is just on normal goods, letalone the scary world of credence goods! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TawjGSwkb3c) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AH9jK_D_xzY

    • At 2.25 they actually discuss that when consumers have too much choice they tend to give up and not purchase anything. They can rely on ‘easy outs’ or heuristics (remind: thinking fast and slow – shortcuts to decisions) to make a decision. Also a sneaky tip of the hat to Dan Ariely and a study that appears in Predictably Irrational at the 3:00 minute mark!

There are a number of interesting insights from this video. I can remember being constantly paralysed by making decisions. Which phone plan, which internet plan, which phone to buy etc etc. Going through the information funnel from reviews + friend recommendations to narrow down a few options, then comparing specs side by side. Often making decisions on the smallest, perhaps irrelevant matters. BUT over time I have been able to make quicker decisions.

A point of inspiration was a video from the checkout show on the ABC which mentioned ‘good enough is almost always good enough’. So these days when making decisions it is my heuristic (which is not always true of course!) that when I have narrowed down to a few options, to just make a choice rather than extend the non-decision making process too long.

Predictably Irrational Animated book review + We’re All Predictably Irrational

(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gONHKwx7_aM) + (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JhjUJTw2i1M)

  • I have enjoyed reading his books and watching his videos and have used them in my own teachings of micro-economic courses. Especially when we think about the cost-benefit principle, I have often challenged my students to say ‘well this rule sucks because look at these experiments by Dan Ariely’ and then immediately defend the rule by saying ‘well, a deeper understanding of the rule would say that Dan is enforcing the rule and is serving as a lesson that there are often many costs and benefits that we are not aware of and it is very difficult to try and place dollar values on them to make decisions’
  • One key insight to take out of it is that everything is relative. Hence why understanding negotiation techniques such as framing, anchoring, high-balling etc are incredibly useful for things beyond negotiation itself. In decision making in corporations there is a negotiation of ideas, there is conflict, there is disagreement on the very facts that exist.
  • I really enjoy the study of market norms vs social norms. Understanding this has allowed me to be more honest with how I allocate my time. I feel that in smaller organisations with good company culture, this social norms factors in to the overall productivity and output of the business. Although doing work and not getting paid is illegal and not something I would ever consciously allow myself to do, if you enjoy working for your boss and have a connection to your team, these things do happen. It is very difficult to track such things but I suspect the impact of social norms affecting the market norms of my own workplace is not zero.

I find it also quite interesting when economists especially espouse people for doing things for a very low rate and considering this a fault in not understanding the value of our time. The example given here is lining up for 2 hours for a free ice cream that is worth $3. Indeed this puts our market rate at $1.50 but we must consider this in the context of opportunity cost and hence other opportunities at this time. Let us say that you did this Saturday morning at 10am to 12pm. Even if you are a consultant during the week for $50 an hour, this Saturday morning time is no valued at that, especially if you cannot claim extra work outside of hours for your normal rate. The typical argument is ‘well you could have gotten a job at mcdonald’s or something for $12 an hour’ or a job at X for $Y an hour. Is that realistic though? I take two issues with this (A) Although we are moving that way in the on demand economy, you can’t really just pick up work for 2 hours or 1 hour or 20 minutes. This leads to (B) You would likely have to pick up another proper job and the time cost associated with this as well as the mental cost of working all week then working more on the weekend might just make this a worse option. A full, realistic analysis of all the costs and benefits of that waiting in line for 2 hours may find there really is no other viable opportunity cost that makes this a bad option.

Overall – perhaps statements like this fall into the fundamental bias/issue discussed in these videos. That for those two hours you are comparing your hourly rate with your normal weekly hourly rate or the national ‘minimum wage’ which are not realistic comparisons.

A realistic view on decision making from Henry Mintzberg

  • This video mentioned a three part triangle of science, craft and art.

This reminds me of the knowledge art experience from DVN and how, indeed, there is a role for improvisation to play but there is need for a toolbox that can assist. Experience, however, is what will help deploy the various tools on the fly.

  • The video also categorises decision making as one of three options:
    • Analysis first, seeing first, doing first (iteratively)

The last reminds me of gradient descent algorithm as well as the agile methodology from project management. It appears that decision making, as a field of study, also benefits from the idea of ‘do a little bit, check it out, change the plan and go again’ just in the same way project management does and so does algorithmic approaches to machine learning.


The Power of ‘Not Yet’

The power of not yet

In this blog post, I want to refer to a TED talk I recently watched about ‘The power of Not yet’. In it, the speaker discusses a very powerful way of thinking about who you are, where you are, and where you are going. I hope to reflect on this piece in relation to my MDSI journey so far.

The fundamental thought in this TED talk is about reshaping your thinking away from binary ‘failure’ and ‘success’ (in her example, for school children who fail a test) into ‘not yet’. In essence I believe this can be thought of as changing your mindset from ‘what am I failing at now’ to ‘what am I not yet at the level I want to be at’. The talk discusses in depth the studies that demonstrate how it is important for students to have a growth mindset where there is a belief of possible improvement rather than a belief of failure.

This way of thinking is something that resonates well with myself as the world of data science feels like one in which you need to very quickly have a lot of skills in a lot of different areas (statistics, database management, machine learning, coding, data vis, communication) and for a long time I definitely felt that I was inadequate at a lot of these. Indeed my mind turn this feeling of inadequacy into a feeling of ‘failure’. That is, currently, I was ‘failing’ at one of these areas because I was not good at it.

I have tried hard recently to reframe my thinking into the idea of ‘not yet’. Something which further speaks to me as it sets the particular skill/area into into a task, something incomplete. So rather than having failed at something or being ‘not good’ at something, I am not yet at the level I want to be. But I will be!

Indeed, in my reflections on this I turned to the rather large (and growing!) list of online courses and books and blog posts I have set myself in different areas to continue my self-learning goals for my data science career trajectory. I conducted a mini-survey out to friends in the MDSI slack as well as a few other groups and gathered insights into the best tools and techniques to getting started and for managing this overwhelming amount of free or cheap education we have access to these days. A lot of peers suggested various forms of the ‘Pomodoro technique’ in which a certain amount of hours are set aside each week and within these hours, using this methodology for productive work.

Another great technique is that of peer accountability. I am sure that many of you would similarly find that getting up early, doing extra work or some sort of extending effort is much easier when there is a friend or a peer expecting you to complete it. As noted in one of my other posts, the wonderful learning community we have at MDSI is primed for providing such opportunities. As I am writing this, a number of peers are taking part in the first Sunday afternoon slack study session!

It is interesting to reflect on how many of these recommendations related to something I saw recently in an article called ‘systems thinking’ as an approach. Indeed this advocates for not having goals and there is legitimate debate as to what extent ‘do 2 hours twice a week’ is a goal vs just a ‘system’ but either way, the main thought I took from this was to just dive in. Set aside a certain amount of hours each week, prioritise 1 or (at max) 2 courses to be undertaking at any time. If you can’t decide – just flip a (or many) coins!

I would now return back to this TED talk I mentioned at the beginning of the post as it seems that my anxiety of currently not being where I wanted to be and thus searching for tools to help me build a bridge to the other side of my ‘not yet’ is actually mentioned in the talk. The speaker mentions that one of the main ways to help students be motivated and to achieve (especially those struggling) is ‘process praise’ rather than single goal praise which sounds a lot like systems thinking which sounds a lot like ‘shave off a few hours and do mini-goals within those’ to me!

So where do we end up with this? My key takeaways from reflecting on this idea of failure vs ‘not yet’ and the tools and techniques to help are as follows:

  1. Rephrase your thinking from ‘failure’ or ‘not good at’ to ‘not yet’. An unfinished task to work on rather than a binary, demotivating failure or immovable state of being.
  2. Figure out what courses you would like to do that will take you from ‘not yet’ to the state where you feel confident in your abilities. Prioritise these resources and pick the top two
  3. Undertake process praise rather than single-goal praise. Shave off a few hours, a few times a week to work. Utilise the Pomodoro technique if you like but ensure you are consistently making the time regardless. Ensure you are tracking and rewarding yourself for improvement, for commitment, for consistency, rather than single-value completion (though this can be a big reward at the end!).>>Weave in peer-accountability into this part as well if it works for you. Simply the act of telling a close friend or peer your plan and the words ‘please get upset with me if I don’t do this’ can be the difference between ‘ah…nah not today’ and ‘let’s do it!’

As a further point of self-motivation I will be blogging about my educational goals, systems and the different resources I use along the way. It is going to be a big year ahead – looking forward to it!