Decisions, Decisions

I read this bit on McDonald’s Theory recently:

An interesting thing happens. Everyone unanimously agrees that we can’t possibly go to McDonald’s, and better lunch suggestions emerge. Magic!

It’s as if we’ve broken the ice with the worst possible idea, and now that the discussion has started, people suddenly get very creative. I call it the McDonald’s Theory: people are inspired to come up with good ideas to ward off bad ones.

Two thoughts came to mind.

First, this is a variation on the restaurant choice aspect of the dinner diffusion problem, wherein people don’t want to be the one caught making a decision about where to go to dinner at a conference.

The other thing is that, when the author ties this in to the broader decision-making process, it’s partly the blank page syndrome — tasks are more daunting when an empty page is staring at you, and it’s better to just get started, somewhere — anywhere — even if you have to completely revise the work, because you’ve gotten the ball rolling.

But the hesitancy to float ideas in front of colleagues is somewhat foreign to me, and I wonder if that’s simply due to my little corner of science, or if that’s broader. Scientists are used to people trying to shoot down their ideas because that’s how peer review works, so there is a distance between the person and the idea, or there is supposed to be. It’s a bad dynamic to have someone who won’t accept criticism of their ideas and/or gets personally invested in them. Pursuing wrong ideas is a waste of time and resources, so you’d prefer to know the problems with an idea as early on as you can. So not taking the criticism personally makes it easier to bring ideas up. If someone finds a flaw, you fix it and move forward, or if it’s fatal, you discard the idea and move on to something else. (Of course, it’s possible I’ve just lucked into the right situations all these years)

2 thoughts on “Decisions, Decisions

  1. I found that among scientists that may depend quite a bit on one’s own discipline and the topic under discussion.
    For non-science topics I have not seen people being very hesitant (though usually the same solutions/pub/restaurant tend to pop up).

    On science topics specialists tend to be a bit more hesitant if they have to venture out of their field of expertise (but are much quicker and vocal when inside). People from certain more global disciplines (cosmologists for example) or people with less experimental background have often no issues to flaunt the weirdest ideas ( I suspect because they do not see the huge time investment that an experimentalist usually associates with a given idea.

    This is all based on the highly subjective measure of having worked extensively in multi-disciplinary situations, of course.

    The ability to discard an idea seems to dependent highly on the individual and the situation where the idea was presented, though.

  2. Doing a summary of the purported solutions, explaining why each falls short, is a way around the blank page problem. Accurately describing a problem with specificity, you may glimpse an idea for a better way. At least you can think in concrete terms about the problem, so a pearl of wisdom may grow from the irritation.

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