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Jul 10

Expectations, Higher Standards, Behavioral Economics, and Politics

Google, Politics, Tech Add comments

I have seen a few people a little saddened by some of Obama’s recent moves, especially geeks on the FISA vote, which upset me too. It is wrong. We need new privacy policy.

As I thought about this, I started to think about expectations. By taking the higher ground, and telling us that he will do so, Obama has set himself a higher standard. This relates to me, as I have talked in the past about the higher standard that Google has to live up to thanks to “Don’t be evil” and other such things. As an employee, and a person, I actually like the somewhat constraining higher standards. It means that colleagues can’t take shortcuts, and things can’t sneak by… and if they do? Then we pay for it as a company. Our trust is tied to our business, which is tied to who we say we are.

The same is true for Obama. If McCain does something, sure we can use it as a talking point, but there is more leeway. Ah, he is an old school politician, that stuff just happens. Not with Obama. If he does anything that we don’t agree with, he can get jumped on by many sides. This can be hard as what one person thinks is moral, isn’t the same for another. He has a tough road ahead, but the benefits are that people believe in him and we will come to a new presidency with that Hope that we have been hearing about. With the entire RNC coming after him, the battle is just about to start.

What if he does get in? Those expectations get in too. The tone gets into the office. He could go to Iran and say “let’s put some history behind us and make a change that benefits all of us.” People will be more receptive to change, and boy do we need it. So, even if he isn’t as perfect as some make him out to be, he will have to live up to the image to survive, which means a better, stronger, president of the USA.


I also got to see a fantastic and entertaining talk at Google that is now on YouTube. The talk was by Dan Ariely, an MIT professor working on Behavioural Economics. Really though, it was one of those talks that reminds you that us humans…. we are animals man.

Professor Dan Ariely visits Google’s Mountain View, CA headquarters to discuss his book “Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions.” This event took place on July 1, 2008, as part of the Authors@Google series.

In a series of illuminating, often surprising experiments, MIT behavioral economist Dan Ariely refutes the common assumption that we behave in fundamentally rational ways. Blending everyday experience with groundbreaking research, Ariely explains how expectations, emotions, social norms, and other invisible, seemingly illogical forces skew our reasoning abilities. Not only do we make astonishingly simple mistakes every day, but we make the same types of mistakes, Ariely discovers. We consistently overpay, underestimate, and procrastinate. We fail to understand the profound effects of our emotions on what we want, and we overvalue what we already own. Yet these misguided behaviors are neither random nor senseless. They’re systematic and predictable—making us predictably irrational.

In the talk Dan shows so many cases of how we trick ourselves such as:

  • Spouse: A group was given a questionnaire. Half of the group was asked to write down 10 things you love about your spouse. The other were asked to note just 3. When complete, the next question was about how long you think you will stay married. What is interesting is that the people who were asked to jot 10 things thought they would last a lot shorter than the group who only had to think of 3 because….. thinking of 10 things is hard!
  • Signing: Asking someone to sign “what I am about to do is true” versus “What you just signed is true?” made a huge difference. Dan worked with an insurance, who did A/B testing on a form asking how many miles you drive and there was a drastic difference. It turns out that the majority of people lie, but just a little.
  • Comparisons: Dan saw that The Economist had a purchase page that allowed you to choose between a Web version, print version, or both. The strange thing was that the both and print version were the same 129 pound price. With that comparison people were much more likely to choose ‘both’ than the cheaper Web only version. Take away the choice, and the game changes.

And this leads us to the tie in to politics. He showed that comparisons happen with people too. Showing three photos of “similarly attractive people”, where one of the photos was a slightly uglier version (via Photoshop) meant that people selected the good looking double way more frequently.

With this election we have a young up and coming chap, and an old geezer. If a third candidate came around who was a slightly worse old geezer it would help McCain…. maybe if Nader does well? Or what about running mates, how much of the look will matter there as well as policy?

Watch Dan’s talk. Great stuff.

4 Responses to “Expectations, Higher Standards, Behavioral Economics, and Politics”

  1. Dougal Matthews Says:

    Small typo Dion, at the end of the 2nd para “They we pay …” should read “Then we pay …”

    Nice post, You make some very good points and it will be interesting to see what happens in the US. Although, it wont directly effect me over here in Scotland ;)

  2. dion Says:

    Thanks for the catch Dougal!

    I just saw a note from you on the new Facebook Mobile app so I will check it out!

  3. ark Says:

    I’d expect you to know it’s “Don’t be evil” not “Do no evil”

  4. dion Says:

    Doh! Thanks for the catch.

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