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Harvard professor Francesca Gino speaks on decision-making

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January 16, 2014

At the beginning of her College of Business Dean’s Distinguished Lecture Tuesday, Harvard Business School Associate Professor Francesca Gino gave the audience a short quiz.

After asking the crowd to rate their own decision-making abilities, she told all those who said they were above average to raise their hands.

“I see about 98 percent of people,” Gino said. “That’s a mathematical impossibility.”

It was just one of a number of entertaining demonstrations Gino used to show the crowd of nearly 1,000 how we often don’t realize the subtle cues affecting how we make decisions.

The talk focused on Gino’s research and findings she shared in her book “Sidetracked: Why our decisions get derailed and how we can stick to the plan.”

Harvard associate professor Francesca Gino speaks about her new book Sidetracked: Why our decisions get derailed, and how we can stick to the plan.

One of the issues that can sidetrack a decision includes our perceptions of ourselves. Taking time and honestly assessing a situation and how it will affect us can go a long way to creating a positive outcome, Gino said.

From there, it’s important to look at the context of a situation — our emotions, relationships and other influences — and imagine if those could be changing the way you see a decision.

Gino showed an experiment where subjects were more likely to cheat if they saw someone wearing shirt for their school do it, but less than average if the cheater had a rival’s shirt on.

“Even in a situation as important as ethics, we’re often swayed by those close to us,” Gino said.

While Gino said realizing the effect small factors have on us can be discouraging — would we really act differently if someone next to us had a Beaver or Duck on their shirt? — it’s also empowering to know we can change.

“You can sort of end up with your hands in your hair, screaming ‘We are so biased!’” she said. “But it’s also hopeful, because you can find that context and next time make a better decision.”

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