Dan Ariely: The Power of Morning, Time Together and Positive Feedback

Dan Ariely has a weekly advice column in the Wall Street Journal based on Behavioral Economics. I felt all three bits of advice he gave in his April 23, 2019 column were especially useful, so I wanted to share them here.

First, Dan suggests tackling especially tough tasks as one’s first big work item in the morning. He describes this as

… taking advantage of the clarity and energy that most people enjoy in the morning to tackle a problem that is important, complex and difficult …

I have been finding that things that seem daunting the evening before seem doable in the morning right after I have finished other basic parts of my morning routine.

Second, Dan retails a very interesting statistic about the formation of friendships:

Researcher Jeffrey Hall at the University of Kansas looked at the question of how long it takes to make friendships, and his findings show that after spending 80 to 100 hours together, the odds of two people moving from a casual friendship to a deeper one are about 50%.

Unaccountably, there is then an arithmetic error:

Prof. Hall goes on to estimate that creating a friend group of 25 to 35 people would require a total investment of 2,000 to 3,500 hours. 

As you can see from multiplication, that is what the calculation would be if the odds of creating a friendship were 100% after 80 to 100 hours. The estimate of 50% odds implies it would take twice as long: 4000 to 7000 hours to generate a friend group of 25 to 35 people.

Third, and most striking to me, he points out a crucial flaw in negative feedback—above and beyond negative feedback making people feel bad:

The problem with negative feedback is that it tells us to stop doing something, but doesn’t give us a new course of action to replace it with.

He suggest that it is easy to put a direction into positive feedback:

Instead, try using positive feedback to redirect … efforts in a way that will be useful. For instance, you could ask for advice on another subject you genuinely want to learn more about …

Traditional economics often assumes that everyone is doing everything right, except the government. As a consequence, it only has advice for the government. Behavioral economics opens up the possibility of individuals, households and firms making mistakes, and so has a lot more potential advice to offer.