Sunday, July 12, 2009

Choices...choices...


As a project manager - even if you ended up in the career, as many of us did, as an accident - you will be making lots and lots of choices. Add more resources to this task? Use the Jones company or the Smith company as your subcontractor? Have an on-site project kickoff meeting or a virtual one?

I just listened to an excellent podcast on the subject of choice. It was on NPR's Radiolab, one of my favorite podcasts and one I would highly recommend you subscribe to.

It's brain food. Eat well.

In the podcast was something interesting about the way our mind works. A psychological study was referenced in which people were given numbers to memorize - numbers which were short, like "23" or numbers which were long, like 034789328. The people went into a room, were given the number and were told to memorize it and move to another nearby room down the hall and repeat the number there. That was their only task.

On their way, they were interrupted by a woman with a pushcart who said something like, "excuse me, as part of your participation in the study, you get a snack; would you like a slice of chocolate cake, or a fruit cup?".

Here is the interesting part.

Participants who were given the longer numbers (like 034789328) were much, much, much more likely to choose the chocolate cake, and those given short numbers (like 23) were much more likely to pick fruit.

So what?

Well, it turns out (according to the continued research) the rational part of the brain that needs to process the analysis/memorization of the number is the same part which would make the rational decision that the fruit was the healthy, better choice. However, while occupied with the number, it was distracted, and the more emotional part of the brain, the one that says, "mmmm, gooey, yummy chocolate", takes over and makes the decision.

The connection to PM? When you need to make choices like the ones I mentioned at the opening of this posting, you may want to be sure that the rational part of your brain is free -- or you may be making a "chocolate cake" decision.

If this tickles your interest, see an article from Stanford University here.

And please - add RadioLab to your list of podcasts!

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