about games, game theory, related fiction and other matters
Wednesday, December 25, 2013
From the Heath Brothers
Welcome to our erratically-published newsletter for fans of our books!
Below you'll find a never-before-published "outtake" from our
new book Decisive.
First up: Did
you know we have uploaded a slew of resources related to Decisive?
As always, they are free. Just go to our Resources page and
log in using the email address that this newsletter came to. Let us
highlight two of the new items:
job change? Check out the podcast Decisive for Job Decisision.
·Are you an
agonizer or a waffler when it comes to decisions? The How to be More
Decisive podcast is for you.
STORIES: CAN YOU HELP?
For a future
article, we are researching stories of people and organizations who
bounced back from adversity. When you’ve experienced setbacks, how have
you come back from that? If you’ve bounced back in your personal or
professional life—or if you’ve been a witness to an impressive
comeback—we’d love to hear the story. In particular, we’d love to hear
HOW you did it—not just the beginning and end points (from a valley to a
recovery) but especially the middle. The mechanics of the rebound. Were
there moments of inspiration? Important points of day-to-day discipline?
Tactics you found useful? If anything comes to mind, just reply to this
email and we’ll get it.
THE BANANA BREAD
INCIDENT: WHAT INFORMATION CAN WE TRUST?
following is a passage that we wrote for Decisive but ultimately had to
leave out. This is the first time it has been published anywhere -- hope
you enjoy it!]
The banana bread
To make a good
decision, we need to assess our options, which means that we need to
collect information about them. But there’s a problem: The information
we’ll collect instinctively may not be trustworthy because of a few
Consider a story
a friend told us about a place he used to work. (We will disguise names
to avoid being gratuitously mean.) He had a colleague, Ed, whose wife,
Melissa, sent baked goods to the office via Ed. She made pumpkin bread,
blueberry muffins, banana bread, cranberry scones, and more. Naturally,
people devoured them immediately.
says our friend, “all the pastries were ‘low-fat.’ We used to complain
about how dry they were. They were fine, I guess. Probably as good as
‘low-fat pastries’ can be. Which is not that good. But we ate them anyway
… I mean, they were free.” Let’s face it: In most offices, even a free
bowl of salted Styrofoam peanuts would disappear quickly.
parties, employees would meet Melissa, and their only point of connection
with her was her pastries. So they’d immediately say something positive:
“Keep sending that banana bread!” “You wouldn’t believe how quickly your
goodies always disappear!” and so on. They were being nice.
The baked goods
kept coming, week after week, with each batch disappearing quickly, until
one day Ed announced that Melissa, elated by the reaction she was getting
from the office, was thinking about starting her own catering business.
“That’s when it hit us. Uh-oh,” said our friend. “What have we done?
We’ve been so positive that we’ve convinced this woman to start a new
career! But how could we undo the damage at that point? ‘Actually, your
banana bread sucks.’ Who would say that?”
Our friend left
the company right around this time, but he recalls that Ed had started to
fish for catering opportunities among his colleagues, who tended to smile
can you trust?
It’s a mistake
to think that the information that’s most accessible to us will be the
most accurate. When Melissa began to consider a catering business, she
had a lot of positive feedback close at hand: I send food to the office, and people eat every
when they see me at parties, they rave about it. Their
feedback confirmed her instinct that she should start a catering
But she never
sought disconfirming information—information that challenged what
she hoped would be true. Had she tried charging $5 per loaf of banana
bread, for instance, she might have learned how shallow her pool of
But Melissa also
made another kind of mistake, one we all tend to commit: She got sucked
in by the vivid particulars of her situation and failed to see the larger
pattern it was a part of. For example, she took it as a huge compliment
that people always finished every last morsel of her baked goods (the
particulars); she didn’t realize that they finished every last morsel of
anything brought to the office (the pattern).
Nor did she see
herself as part of a larger class of people like her—good cooks who want
to start catering businesses—and wonder what she could learn from the
experience of others like her. (Is it a hard business to start? Can you
trust that compliments will translate into orders?)
example of this tension between particulars and patterns, think of a
manager who’s visited by three different employees during the same week,
all disgruntled about their working hours. As a result of those visits,
she concludes that the company’s scheduling process needs an overhaul.
After all, the close-at-hand information was universally negative.
(Meanwhile, the other 47 employees, a quieter bunch, were perfectly
We tend to
confuse vivid information with representative information. Think, for
instance, of the feeling we’ve all had that we always get stuck in the
slow line. This is silly, of course—it can’t be statistically true
that we’re all stuck in the slow lines (unless, perhaps, all the fast
lines are in China). The problem is that we don’t hang onto memories of
fast-moving lines, only the times when we were stuck.
people fear plane crashes more than car crashes, and most people believe
that homicides are more lethal than diabetes. Both are false—on a mile
for mile basis, you are 37 times more likely to die while driving than
while flying, and diabetes kills four times as many people as homicides.
Many people fear
shark attacks when they visit the beach, even though shark attacks have
killed only 67 people worldwide since 1876. In fact, if you’ve ever
rocked a vending machine in hopes of knocking loose your purchase, you
were much closer to death;more people die from vending
machine accidents than shark attacks. (Yet no one quakes with
fear when they feed in coins for Fritos.)
and homicides and shark attacks are searingly vivid and emotional. Every
time one happens, it makes the headlines. Meanwhile, car crashes and
diabetes and vending machine accidents are every bit as terrible, but
they’re less visible. They don’t make the papers.
thoughts on gathering trustworthy information, see the "Zoom Out
Zoom In" chapter of Decisive.]
Until next time,
Dan & Chip
P.S. If you
pre-ordered Decisive to claim your freebies, you should have long since
received them. If you haven’t, please email Christy@heathbrothers.com
and we will sort it out pronto!