Dan Ariely Speaks the Truth

I was introduced to Dan Ariely when I picked up his book "Predictably Irrational" a couple years back.  I know it wasn't anytime recently because: A.) It's a physical book, not a wireless download & B.) The sticker on the back says it's from Borders.  Anyways, it was one of my first behavioral psychology reads and really sparked by fascination with the subject.  

It's always an exciting discovery when you find something that you quickly become obsessed with.  Learning how and more importantly why we (or at least Westerners that participate in most of the studies) think and act quickly became addictive.  I still find myself buying some of the intriguing and popular new releases even though most of them just recycle the same knowledge, and cite the same studies, but applied to a different scenario.  This isn't rational but it's still something I continue to do.

Back to Dan, he has a great blog that he frequently updates with real world examples of these behavioral psychology principles by taking reader's questions and trying to explain their thinking.  A recent post of his included this wonderful response:

Dear Dan,

Early in my career, I wrote a massive Excel macro for the large bank where I worked. The macro (a set of automated commands) would take a data dump and turn it into a beautiful report. It took about two minutes to run, with an hourglass showing that it was working away. The output was very useful, but everyone complained that it was too slow.

One way to speed up a macro is to make it run in the background, invisibly, with just the hourglass left on-screen. I had done this from the start, but just for fun, I flipped the setting so that people using the macro could see it do its thing. It was like watching a video on fast forward: The macro sliced the data, changed colors, made headers and so on. The only problem: It took about three times as long to finish.

Once I made this change, however, everyone was dazzled by how fast and wonderful the algorithm was. Do you have a rational explanation for this reversal?


I’m not sure I have a rational explanation, but I have a logical one. What you describe so nicely is a combination of two forces. First, when we are just waiting aimlessly, we feel that time is being wasted, and we feel worse about its passage. Second, when we feel that someone is working for us, particularly if they are working hard, we feel much better about waiting (and about paying them for their effort). Interestingly, this joy at having someone work hard for us holds true not just of people but of computer algorithms, too.

The life lesson should be clear: Work extra hard at describing how hard you work to those around you.

I love it, so logical and true.  The bold part at the end is my emphasis on the underlying principle; it's partly sad that this is the main point of his answer but it's 100% true.  Many people and services should take his advice if they wish to increase their customer satisfaction levels.