Thursday, April 02, 2009

Algorithms (not Al Gore Rhythms)

I was reading a book about behavioral psychology, and it mentioned that, when we enter a store, studies show we tend to turn right, no matter what we are looking for. I thought that was a weird human tic, but it made me think that, at a grocery store, the shorter lines are probably on the left, since most people go right instinctively. They walk down the aisle, turn right, and get in line.

So, I determined that, from now on, I will always go to the shortest line on the left. It's an algorithm I will follow. It made me start to think of other algorithms people follow. Brands are interesting algorithms. We tend to pick a brand we like (of shoes, of cars, of soft drinks, you name it) and stick with it. It makes the sometimes overwhelming decisions much easier to make. Confronted with too many choices? Go for the algorithm. I did it just yesterday, when confronted with the decision of where to take our vehicle to get it worked on. One was a national chain and the other was a local business. One of my algorithms is always go local. Right or wrong, it makes decisions easier.

It reminded me of a great algorithm that "The Sopranos" carried through an entire season, repeated often. It said, "more is lost through indecision than through bad decision." So, the algorithm basically said, just make a decision, and stop worrying about which is best. It may not always lead to the best outcome, but it prevents a person from being paralyzed due to overanalysis.

I'd be interested to hear anybody else's algorithms.


Lane said...

I always go to the stall farthest from the door, but never to the last one, especially if it's a handicapped stall.

Eric said...

I thought of another one. If any driving route can include the freeway, even if I'm not sure it saves time, I take the freeway, even if I hop on and get off at the next exit.

MLE said...

In psychology most of what you're describing is called being a "cognitive miser". It is exactly as you describe: conscious or mildly subconscious decision that save us from the paralysis of thinking about EVERYTHING. It can get you in to some trouble--extreme forms result in "closed mindedness". The trick is, you just have to think about what you're not thinking about. :) Myself, I think too much. It does paralyze. I could use some algorithms. "What Would Al Gore Do?"