November 04, 2010

According to Dan Ariely:

Companies pay amazing amounts of money to get answers from consultants with overdeveloped confidence in their own intuition. Managers rely on focus groups—a dozen people riffing on something they know little about—to set strategies. And yet, companies won’t experiment to find evidence of the right way forward.

I think this irrational behavior stems from two sources. One is the nature of experiments themselves. As the people at the consumer goods firm pointed out, experiments require short-term losses for long-term gains. Companies (and people) are notoriously bad at making those trade-offs. Second, there’s the false sense of security that heeding experts provides.

When we pay consultants, we get an answer from them and not a list of experiments to conduct. We tend to value answers over questions because answers allow us to take action, while questions mean that we need to keep thinking.