Big mind games

By Penelope Trunk via   Article

How to tell if it’s a good job or bad job

“Here are the three big mind games (scientists say ‘cognitive bias’) that get in the way of clear decision-making about careers (and all other decisions as well:  who to marry, whether or not to have kids, and so forth):

1. Anchoring
Anchoring describes the common human tendency to rely too heavily on the first piece of information offered (the ‘anchor’) when making decisions. Once an anchor is set, we make other judgments by adjusting relative to that anchor. For example, the initial price offered for a used car sets the standard for the rest of the negotiation, so that prices lower than the initial price seem more reasonable, even if they are still higher than what the car is really worth.

2. Empathy gap
The crux of this idea is that human understanding is ‘state dependent’. For example, when you are angry, it is difficult to remember what it is like to feel happy, and vice versa; when one is blindly in love with someone, it is difficult to understand what it is like for one not to be, (or to imagine the possibility of not being blindly in love in the future).

This is a frequent problem with startup founders. You should always negotiate a way to buy each other out if you start hating your co-founder. But at the beginning of a startup you are so enamored that you cannot imagine what you will want to do yourself or your partners when your electricity is cut off.

3. Misconstruals
People give more weight to the data they have about a given outcome and they either ignore or inaccurately create data to fill in for what’s missing in order to make predictions about how they’ll feel.  For example if all you know about being a startup founder is you don’t have a boss and you sell a company for millions of dollars, then you probably feel like you’ll be happy as a founder.

I really like the details in this job description from a reddit thread. While it seems like getting paid to maintain a Twitter feed would be a fun job, there are so many terrible parts to that job that you can’t really see until you’re in the thick of it. And in this short job vignette the writer describes all the minefields of trying to guess at what job you’d like to do.

It’s fun for a while. It feels creative, it feels important. Your friends think it’s cool. They follow your brand. And then a month passes and you’ve written 1000 tweets about hamburgers, even though the public will only see 100.”


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