The “Michigan Fish Test” and the Middle East (, March 11, 2011)

Study the image below for five seconds, then look away and quickly describe it to yourself.

What did you see, and what did you say? Did three large fish, the prominent individuals of the scene, hold your gaze?

Or was your eye drawn more to the environment, taking in the rocks, the bubbles, the kelp?

The study associated with the fish image reveals that even basic perceptions are seeded with cultural narrative. So as we regard the tumult in Egypt, Tunisia, and elsewhere, let’s consider just how our own perceptions accent the situation.

Decision Making and its Discontents (Columbia Business School Chazen Global Insights, October 6, 2010)

Americans tend to believe that they’ve reached a pinnacle in how they practice choice. They think that choice is an innate and universal desire in all humans. Unfortunately, these beliefs are based on assumptions that don’t always hold true in many countries and cultures. At times they don’t even hold true within America’s own borders.

A Better Choosing Experience (strategy+business, September 27, 2010)

Consumers have grown accustomed to having a lot of choice, and many people still express a strong desire for having more options. But that doesn’t make it a good idea. There are neurological limits on humans’ ability to process information, and the task of having to choose is often experienced as suffering, not pleasure.

That is why, rather than helping consumers better satisfy their preferences, the explosion of choice has made it more difficult overall for people to identify what they want and how to get it. Thus, if the market for your product is saturated with choice, you can’t gain a competitive edge by dumping more choices into the mix. Instead, you can outthink and outperform your competitors by turning the process of choosing into an experience that is more positive and less mind-numbing for your customers. You can design a more helpful form of choice.

Why the Soda Tax Makes Us Angry (, June 1, 2010)

In 1972, the residents of Miami lost their minds. That’s how it seems, anyway, when you learn they were stockpiling laundry detergent. There was no shortage, but still they rushed to stores to grab as many boxes as they could, even purchased it from other counties. What turned all these people into clean freaks overnight?

Miami was one of the first cities in the country to ban the sale of detergents containing phosphates, chemicals that increased cleaning power but also increased the growth of algae when drained into the water supply. … Like the rest of us, the Miami launderers didn’t want to be told what not to do. We value our freedom of choice so highly that when it’s threatened by an external authority, we automatically rebel in order to reassert control.

Assisted Suicide and “Free Choice” (, May 5, 2010)

In his essay “The Myth of Sisyphus,” Albert Camus writes, “Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy.” It is not a question we like to think about. …

The new HBO film “You Don’t Know Jack” probably won’t spur serious investigation of the fundamental question. This biopic of Jack Kevorkian, the infamous “Dr. Death,” may not add anything new to the physician-assisted suicide argument, but it does remind us of a time not too long ago when we were forced to consider where we stand on the matter. And for many of us, where we stand is anything but firm ground.

When Believing is Deceiving (Columbia Business School Public Offering, March 1, 2010)

Why did subprime mortgage borrowers make the choices they did, even when in many cases their decisions made them worse off than they were to begin with? To answer this question we need to take a closer look at how people determine what is most in line with their self-interest — and how they fail.