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Ask Ariely: On Besting Biases, Anticipating Activities, and Exceeding Expectations

May 8, 2021 BY Dan Ariely

Here’s my Q&A column from the WSJ this week  and if you have any questions for me, you can tweet them to @danariely with the hashtag #askariely, post a comment on my Ask Ariely Facebook page, or email them to AskAriely@wsj.com.

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Dear Dan,

My company strives for more gender equality, particularly in leadership positions. To help us achieve this goal we make sure when we examine the top candidates for the position that we anonymize the resumes and have them reviewed by both male and female members of our staff. Still, our recent round of hiring has not resulted in the desired diversity. What else can we do to improve our hiring process?

—Pat 

Just as tossing a coin won’t necessarily give you equal numbers of heads and tails in the short run, the same goes for fair hiring practices. Here, too, you should not expect proportional hiring as an immediate result; you can only look at trends once you have hired a substantial number of people.

Still, one element in your process suggests a path for improvement. You discussed how you assess top candidates, but what about biases that may come into play before this short list is made? Most gender biases in hiring are a result of companies’ informal recruitment rather than the formal procedure. Is it possible that your short list contains mainly men due to colleagues’ recommendations or other networks?

To address this possibility, double the size of your short list. That alone could help a broader pool of applicants get serious consideration.

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Dear Dan,

I was planning a surprise beach weekend for my boyfriend, but a friend accidentally said something and ruined the surprise. I’m disappointed, and my friend feels terrible. What can we do to prevent this mistake from casting a dark shadow on the trip?

—Leslie 

Consider your friend’s error a gift in disguise. Now that your boyfriend knows, he’ll be able to look forward to the trip. The anticipation is a bonus source of happiness! Studies have shown that when people think back on life experiences, the anticipation can be more positive than the experience itself.

Even more, you can heighten the anticipation by doing things like counting down the days to the trip or looking at the menu from a fancy seafood place where you just got a reservation. Surprises are great, but short-lived.

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Dear Dan,

For years, I’ve been organizing a charity event for an animal rescue organization. Every year people tell me I’ve outdone myself, and it’s starting to feel like an expectation that the next event will offer more than the last. Now I’m struggling to come up with new ideas, and I’m worried about disappointing the committee. What can I do?

—Alice 

There is an interesting study where participants were asked to modify a structure built with Legos. Most participants added more bricks, but a quicker and better strategy was to remove a few. With this in mind, consider whether you could improve the event by subtracting instead of adding. Try keeping it simple and stick to the most successful elements from previous years.

We have a tendency to think that the way to make things better is to do more. Often we overlook the value of removing something to increase the appreciation of the rest.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal.