Home » Sometimes It’s Good to Give Up the Driver’s Seat: Baba Shiv at TEDxStanford (Transcript)

Sometimes It’s Good to Give Up the Driver’s Seat: Baba Shiv at TEDxStanford (Transcript)

You folks, I’m going to show you these two teas, but you don’t have a choice. I’m going to give you one of these two teas, and keep in mind, I’m going to pick one of these two teas at random for you. And you know that. So if you think about it, this is an extreme-case scenario, because in the real world, whenever you are taking passenger’s seat, very often the driver is going to be someone you trust, an expert, etc. So this is an extreme-case scenario.

Now, you’re all going to consume the tea. So imagine that you’re taking the tea now, we’ll wait for you to finish the tea. We’ll give another five minutes for the ingredient to have its effects.

Now you’re going to have 30 minutes to solve 15 puzzles. Here’s an example of the puzzle you’re going to solve. Anyone in the audience want to take a stab?

Audience member: Pulpit!

Whoa! OK. That’s cool. Yeah, so what we’d do if we had you who gave the answer as a participant, we would have calibrated the difficulty level of the puzzles to your expertise. Because we want these puzzles to be difficult. These are tricky puzzles, because your first instinct is to say “tulip.” And then you have to unstick yourself. Right? So these have been calibrated to your level of expertise, because we want this to be difficult, and I’ll tell you why, momentarily.

Now, here’s another example. Anyone? This is much more difficult.

Audience member: Embark.

Yeah. Wow! OK. So, yeah, so this is, again, difficult. You’ll say “kamber,” then you’ll go, “maker,” and all that, and then you can unstick yourself. So you have 30 minutes now to solve these 15 puzzles. Now, the question we’re asking here is, in terms of the outcome — and it comes in the number of puzzles solved — will you in the driver’s seat end up solving more puzzles because you are in control, you could decide which tea you would choose, or would you be better off, in terms of the number of puzzles solved? And, systemically, what we will show, across a series of studies, is that you, the passengers, even though the tea was picked for you at random, will end up solving more puzzles than you, the drivers.

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We also observe another thing, and that is, you folks not only are solving fewer puzzles, you’re also putting less juice into the task — less effort, you’re less persistent, and so on. How do we know that? Well, we have two objective measures. One is, what is the time, on average, you’re taking in attempting to solve these puzzles? You will spend less time compared to you. Second, you have 30 minutes to solve these; are you taking the entire 30 minutes or are you giving up before the 30 minutes elapse? You will be more likely to give up before the 30 minutes elapse, compared to you. So you’re putting in less juice, and therefore, the outcome: fewer puzzles solved.

That brings us now to: why does this happen? And under what situations — when — would we see this pattern of results where the passenger is going to show better, more favorable outcomes, compared to the driver? It all has to do with when you face what I call the INCA. It’s an acronym that stands for the nature of the feedback you’re getting after you made the decision. So if you think about it, in this particular puzzle task — it could happen in investing in the stock market, very volatile out there, it could be the medical situation — the feedback here is immediate. You know the feedback, whether you’re solving the puzzles or not.

Right? Second, it is negative. Remember, the deck was stacked against you, in terms of the difficulty level of these puzzles. And this can happen in the medical domain. For example, very early on in the treatment, things are negative, the feedback, before things become positive. Right? It can happen in the stock market. Volatile stock market, getting negative feedback, it is also immediate. And the feedback in all these cases is concrete, it’s unambiguous; you know if you’ve solved the puzzles or not.

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Now, the added one, apart from this immediacy, negative, this concreteness — now you have a sense of agency. You were responsible for your decision. So what do you do? You focus on the foregone option. You say, you know what? I should have chosen the other tea. That casts your decision in doubt, reduces the confidence you have in the decision, the confidence you have in the performance, the performance in terms of solving the puzzles. And therefore less juice into the task, fewer puzzles solved and less favorable outcomes compared to you folks.

And this can happen in the medical domain, if you think about it, right? A patient in the driver’s seat, for example. Less juice, which means keeping herself or himself less physically fit, physically active to hasten the recovery process, which is what is often advocated. You probably wouldn’t do that. And therefore, there are times when you’re facing the INCA, when the feedback is going to be immediate, negative, concrete and you have the sense of agency, where you’re far better off taking the passenger’s seat and have someone else drive.

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