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Three Ways To Avoid Choice Paralysis

Published 6/27/2018

Choices shape our careers, and in today's episode, we're going to talk about decision making and how we can evaluate decisions to move forward instead of letting decisions stop us.

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Transcript (Generated by OpenAI Whisper)
If you've been listening to this show for a while now, you may have asked yourself, why are we talking about psychology so much? Why are we talking about things like behavioral economics and bias so much on a show for developers? And I have a very simple answer for you. It's because these are things that affect choice. When your choices really shape your career, your choices shape even in the minor choices, they shape your day-to-day life, and then in the major choices, they shape much larger things. Choices like where you're going to work or where you're going to live, sometimes those two things go hand in hand, the kinds of people that you want to associate with, the type of car you want to drive, or how you want people to perceive you. All of these are various types of choices, some that you have a little bit more control over than others. But we've said this on the show for a while now. The whole point of Developer Tea is to help you connect to your career purpose. And if you can't make good choices, connecting to your career purpose is going to be very difficult. We're going to talk a little bit more about choices and ways to make better choices in today's episode. My name is Jonathan Cutrell and you're listening to Developer Tea. And as I've already said, my goal in the show is to help you connect to your career purpose so that you can do better work and have a positive influence on the people around you. And in order to connect to your career purpose, you have to understand how to discover that. One of the things that you have to be able to do is to take some time to kind of do some life design. That's kind of a weird phrase. But to sit back and say, okay, what is it that I want? Not today necessarily, although today counts. But also what might I want in a month from now and in a year from now? What about three or five years from now and even beyond that, 10 or 15 years? And what do I want the end of my career to look like? What do I want my retirement age, my retirement years to look like? And then even beyond that, once I am gone, once I have left this world, I've died, and all that's left is the people that I leave behind. What do I hope happens? How do I hope the world will have been impacted by my actions, my choices, my life? And so, yes, of course, this is a very large conversation, right? But this is kind of how we can go down the path of finding some level of purpose. Not only career purpose, but maybe a deeper type of purpose. But of course, career purpose is derived from those kinds of thought experiments. Now, when we're making choices very often, we're bad at making choices. We've talked about so many ways that we're bad. We've talked about various biases like optimism bias and confidence bias. These are things that basically say, I'm better than I really am. I think that I'm better than I really am. The classic example of this is that pretty much everyone thinks that they are better than the average driver. They're safer than the average driver. We won't recount all of the many biases that we've talked about on the show, all of the cognitive distortions, the ways that we see the world in somewhat of a skewed way. But what we will talk about is decision making. So let's present a scenario where a bad decision is easily made. Let's say, for example, that you're coming out of college. Many people are listening to the show, have found themselves in this position, or you're getting ready to find yourself in this position. You're about to leave college, or maybe you're about to leave a boot camp. Because you have a degree in hand, and you're doing a job search, and someone comes along, and they provide you an offer. Of course, this isn't after some work on your part. You did an internship, and you even applied to this company. You went through some interview processes with the company, and ultimately, you know, you were waiting to hear back, and they came back, and they give you an offer. Very often what happens is for new graduates, they take this offer as soon as it comes in. There's no negotiation that happens. There's no further deliberation, because we are so afraid, perhaps, of losing that job offer, of that job offer being kind of pulled off the table, and then never getting another job offer again, it's easy to think that the right decision is to say yes immediately. Not rock the boat with any kind of negotiation, not play it safe by waiting on another offer, because that doesn't seem safe at all. Instead, take the sure money, and even if you believe that the offer is low, or even if during the interview process, you kind of had some reservations about working for this particular company, or maybe you don't really like the title, or the team that you would be working on, there's a tendency to choose to accept that offer. And sometimes, maybe not all the time, but sometimes this is not a great choice. We're going to take a quick sponsor break, and then we're going to talk about how we might make a better choice in this scenario. Today's episode is sponsored by a very familiar name on the show, Linode. Linode provides SSD servers in the cloud for you to run Linux on, and do pretty much anything that you would ever do with Linux, but in the cloud. Linode also provides extra tools and services on top of that core service. For example, they have a service called Node Balancer that allows you to connect your various Linode nodes together. They also have professional development operation services, DevOps services. So if you don't have that kind of talent in your team, or maybe you're a startup, and you don't have all of the personnel resources to handle all the DevOps that you need for your startup, for your fast-growing startup, Linode has you covered, and you can stay focused on building the product itself. Linode also has 24-7 customer support. They have 99.9% uptime guaranteed, and they have even more services like backups and longviews, so you know how your servers are performing over time. So check it out. You get $20 worth of credit. You can use on any of these plans and services, however to expect out of them, slash Linode to get started to you today, and use the code developer to you, 2018, to check out for that $20 worth of credit. Thank you again to Linode for sponsoring today's episode. So how can we make a better decision? How can we make a better decision? In this specific example, we've talked about a job offer that comes along very early for a new graduate or a junior developer, and this can happen at any point in your career. But a job offer that comes along, that you're really afraid to turn down. You're really concerned that if you turn this offer down, that you're never going to get another offer like it. Maybe you have reservations, and it doesn't really look perfect to you. Well, we need to understand that there's no perfect choice in any given scenario. In his book, The Paradox of Choice, Barry Schwartz talks about the difference between a maximizer or perfectionist and a satisfacer. The maximizer tends to try to find the absolute best option, which is almost impossible to do. While a satisfacer sets up some kind of decision-making framework, and whenever enough of that framework, enough of the criteria that they are using in that framework, whenever enough of that is met, they choose that option. Interestingly enough, Schwartz also makes the point in his book, and really this is kind of the major point of the book, that too many choices leave us paralyzed, and we're usually familiar with this idea that choice paralysis sets in. When we have too many choices, we can't really use our brains to evaluate all of them. So we end up kind of failing to some kind of other heuristic to make a choice when there's too many options. Unfortunately, what we're talking about in this scenario is two few options. We only have one option, and the alternative option is kind of a bis, right? It's nothingness. We don't have a secondary option, and so it's easy to believe that once this option disappears, that no other options are available, that we've suddenly doomed ourselves, and because of that huge bias called loss aversion, we very often are afraid. They're afraid of that scenario. So what I would recommend to make better choices in these kinds of scenarios, number one, set up your criteria well in advance. Set it up before you even start your job search. Don't try to match your criteria to what you've found. Instead set up your criteria. Now remember, criteria is not a hard and fast rule. There may be one or two of those in there, but the more hard and fast rules you have, the harder you're going to, the harder you're going to have to look for something that matches those rules. Instead, you should look at your criteria as kind of a sliding scale. Create a range of happiness for each of your criteria. So for example, if your criteria include that the company works with some specific frameworks and languages, maybe if they work with at least half of the ones on your preferred list, that's enough to meet your criteria. So make sure you set this up in advance because if you don't define your values, your job search will end up going to the lowest common denominator, which is quite simply money. And of course, money is important. It's a metric that you should be paying attention to. It actually is probably the primary reason for you to find a job, is so that you can continue to live and provide for yourself and perhaps a family. So don't ignore that side of the equation, but remember that there are more variables involved. If you don't define how you want those variables to look, then the only variable that you end up looking at is money. And perhaps a corollary of benefits. So ensure that you have your values defined. And then the second thing I recommend is to ensure that you have multiple offers to consider. Make sure that you are not finding yourself in a situation where you have one or none. This is a highly difficult situation to overcome. It's a very, very strong bias that will eventually dictate a lot of your actions if you are not aware of it, that loss of version. So make sure you don't find yourself in a position where you have to make the decision between one offer and nothing. Be certain that you are pursuing multiple options. If you ever find yourself in that position, then put a red flag. Now this doesn't mean that you absolutely always say no. There are no absolutes in these kinds of big decisions. If this job is something that you've always wanted and all of the boxes are checked and all of that, those predefined values, if those are all lining up with this job, then it would be kind of irresponsible not to take that opportunity, right? If you were to go out and find other opportunities, then you know that this one is still going to be your preferred opportunity, regardless of what the other opportunities are, then perhaps there's no reason to increase that options. But most likely in almost all scenarios, especially for young developers, it is beneficial for you to have a handful of opportunities to kind of weigh against each other, right? You need pros and cons. You need multiple ways of saying, okay, here is how this decision looks. These are the differences between my options and then weighing those against your values. Now the final and the third and final piece of advice I want to give you about making decisions like this is to consider the decision not for today, but for the life of the decision. Consider not only the first order consequences, like for example, how your bank account changes on the first week, the first paycheck that you receive. Don't consider only those consequences, but consider the second and even the third order consequences. For example, if you need to relocate, consider all of the things that go along with relocation. When you're trying to make this decision, perhaps it's important for you to have a better, clearer vision of what two or three years down the road look like as a result of this decision. Now, nobody can predict the future. Of course, any company can go under the market is relatively unpredictable. But if you make the decision to join a company that's highly volatile, for example, expecting that that job is going to last you three to five years, you may end up in a very difficult scenario, you may end up being left without a job unexpectedly. It's important to think about, what does this decision mean not only for today, but for a year from now? What does it mean down the road in my career? What does it mean for perhaps my next position? What does it mean in relation to that list of things that I've set up, those things that I want in life, the five year and ten year and fifteen year and even those longer term goals? What does this mean for my retirement? And more to the point of purpose, what does this mean for what I do in the world, the effect that I have on the world and the people around me? So it's important, first of all, to make sure that you establish your values before you go on the job search because it's very easy to adopt the values of a particular position or a particular company whenever they come and knock on your door. So establish your values up front. The second thing is to make sure that you have a sufficient options pool. The number of companies that you are entertaining the idea of working with, it's important that that options pool is large enough. And then the third concept that I want you to consider is the second and the third order consequences of major decisions. It's not just about jobs, it's all major decisions in your life are going to have second and third order consequences. And when they are large enough decisions, it's very important that you consider those consequences. So here's the challenge for those of you who are listening to the show today. If you haven't sat down and wrote out the values, the things that you want in your career and more broadly in your life, if you haven't done that, I encourage you to take just five or ten minutes today, grab a notebook, grab a pen and sit down and write those out. For many of you, this is going to result in a major change in the way that you see your life and the way you see your career. Now you may be thinking, oh it's a simple writing exercise like this, how can that change the way I see my life and the way I see my career? Actually the most important thing here is that you're thinking about what you're doing. This is, it's not about the writing exercise. It's about recognizing that you haven't really thought about what you're going after. If you haven't taken the time to figure this stuff out, you haven't really kind of dug in to figure out what you care about. And unfortunately this happens far too often. Again we go back to that lowest common denominator. We all care about sustenance. We all care about how much we're paid for example. But what do you care about beyond that? When you're searching for your first job in your career, when you're deciding what school you want to go to perhaps, when you're deciding even things like what language do I want to learn, what language do I want to work with, these kinds of decisions they carry a lot of weight. And they need to be made with those further things in mind. Not only the sustenance, not only your income, but beyond that. Thank you so much for listening to today's episode of Developer Tea. I hope this was challenging and exciting for you. And I hope that you will take that five to ten minutes to sit down and write out your values if you've never done that before. I encourage you to take the time to do that and then share it with somebody. Talk to somebody else about what you wrote down and ask them what their values are. Compare. Figure out. Know the people inside of your company. How do your values align with each other? Thank you so much for listening. Thank you again to Linode for sponsoring today's episode. Head over to spec.fm slash Linode and get started today. You'll get twenty dollars worth of credit. Thanks again for listening. If you don't want to miss out on future episodes, make sure you subscribe in whatever podcasting app you are currently listening to. And until next time, enjoy your tea.