Does This Really Equal That?

Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky’s great observation was that people make choices between descriptions of things, not the things themselves.*

Imagine I need to pick a painter for my house. You should know, I am not particularly handy, and wouldn’t exactly know how to independently assess a painter’s work. How should I pick who to hire?

Like most people, I would ask some friends and family who they’ve used and maybe look online. Inevitably a few people would come and give me quotes that I’d then compare. Ultimately, I’d end up asking my gut which person I felt the best about. Note how objectively lacking my assessment is compared to the subjective decision-maker that is my gut.  Still, I’d make my choice.

As Kahneman and Tversky made clear – I have not chosen between painters, I’ve chosen between my own assumptions. I’ve assumed that my “positive gut feeling” is equal to the person “probably being a good painter.”

Now, the REAL question is: does the painter in my scenario know this? Is he/she making sure to capitalize on my gut logic?

Our job, no matter what we are doing (painting houses or performing brain surgeries) requires us to communicate a description of the thing we are trying to do to people who understand less about the thing than we do. It doesn’t matter how small your job is – if you interact with even one other person, your job is to anticipate quirky equivalencies like these.

Put your marketing hat on, we’ll be exploring this more in the coming days.

*The “bible” for this stuff is still Kahneman’s book Thinking Fast and Slow.  However, since that can be pretty technical at times, you can also get a very good feel for their work in Michael Lewis’ The Undoing Project.

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