The sweet ingredient to making better decisions
If you have a parole hearing, when should you schedule your slot so that you get a favourable decision? The graph below might shed some light on that question.
In this graph, Shai Denziger captures the results of 1112 parole hearings in Israeli prisons over a ten-month period.
The vertical axis is the proportion of cases where the judges granted parole. The horizontal axis shows the order in which the cases were heard during the day. And the dotted lines, they represent the points where the judges went away for a morning snack and their lunch break.
What the graph shows is extremely noteworthy. At the start of the day, the odds that a prisoner will be successfully paroled is 65%, before nosediving to 0% within a matter of few hours. The judges take their first break (as shown by the dotted lines), and the successful odds climb up to 65%, before plummeting again. Ditto for the proportion of successful paroles after lunch.
Danziger found that the three prisoners seen at the start of each “session” were more likely to be paroled than the three who are seen at the end. That’s true regardless of the length of their sentence, or whether they had been incarcerated before.
Whether prisoners are let off or not could merely be a function of when their cases were heard.
An easy explanation to this could be the aspect of “choice overload”. In repetitive decision-making tasks, once we’ve drained our mental resources, we suffer from choice overload and start opting for the default choice.
For the judges, the more decisions they’ve made, the more depleted they are, and hence they end up making the default choice – in this case, deny parole.
But if we look at things more fundamentally, a clearer picture emerges. Glucose helps you make better decisions.
Glucose is the only fuel used by the brain cells for mental activity. Since the neurons don’t store glucose, they depend on the bloodstream to supply a constant amount of this fuel.
As the judges make more decisions, their brains are getting drained, thereby creating a propensity to look at more immediate decisions (getting back concentration and focus on the current task) rather than understanding the prisoner’s situation and taking appropriate decisions.
The implications of glucose on decision making and its effect as seen in judges’ decision making are huge.
The brain is an energy optimizing machine. Making decisions takes a lot of effort, and too many of them make us feel tired.
In organizations that demand lot of mental task from their employees, productivity can be increased by creating an environment that leads to making fewer decisions. Google is a frontrunner in recognizing this aspect and creates an environment that reduces distractions (thereby keeping glucose levels higher), because of which it’s employees go on to create things that Google is so well known for.
As erstwhile CEO Eric Schmidt put it…
“Let’s face it: programmers want to program, they don’t want to do their laundry. So we make it easy for them to do both.”
This is a fundamental way of looking at how organizational productivity can be increased. If more companies start thinking in this manner, it can only open up doors for a new era in innovation, creating a happier bunch of employees who can then do whatever they do in the best possible manner.