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Your Brain: On IKEA as a cognitive bias

Published 7/8/2015

How many times have you seen someone create a framework, realize it has bugs, and instead of adopting a bigger framework, would rather spend the extra time fixing their bugs, all for the sake of using something they'd built?

This is also known as The IKEA effect. When one places more value on something they'd had a part in building, regardless of quality or function.

Today, I look at the things that help us make good decisions, things that hinder our ability to make those good decisions and tips to recognize your biases so you can continue to make good decisions on a regular basis.

The best way to make sure you don't miss out on any Developer Tea shows, is to go ahead and subscribe to the show. You can do that through iTunes, Stitcher, our RSS feed or any other platform you use.

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Thanks to today's sponsor: Digital Ocean

Today's episode is presented by DigitalOcean. Go to https://digitalocean.com to get started, and use the promo code "DEVELOPER TEA" at the checkout after you create your account to get a $10 credit!

I hope you've enjoyed this episode. Until next time,

Enjoy your tea.

Transcript (Generated by OpenAI Whisper)
Hey, everyone and welcome to Developer Tea. My name is Jonathan Cutrell and today I'm going to be talking to you about a few cognitive biases. Every day our job is to make decisions. This isn't true for just developers, of course. As you've heard on this show in the past, we talk about things that are true for other people as well. Therefore, a developer or decisions are a part of everything that we do and very often a developer operates in kind of a black box where other people at the company can't really give you the decision making framework that you need for a given decision. For example, if you're trying to make a decision between a traditional relational database and a no-sequel kind of database, it's not really helpful for you to talk to somebody who doesn't really work with databases. They just are not going to have the information or the framework for making that decision. You are a decision maker. That is one of the most important skills that a developer can have is to be able to make good decisions. Just as we've talked about learning about learning on this show, we talk about learning as a topic. We're also going to talk about decision making as a topic. How to make good decisions. Of course, there isn't a simple answer to this question, and it is a topic that just like learning or focus, we could talk about for the rest of our time here together and never really come up with a perfect way to do it. That's because everybody does things differently. However, there is a lot of research and thought that has been put into good judgment, into the psychology of making good rational decisions. The reason for this is because this is how people behave. We choose to make decisions every single day, every single moment of our lives. We are constantly making decisions. Out of this research, we found that a lot of things go into helping us make decisions. Of course, our personal experiences, our instincts, and also the things that we observe in others are culture. All of these things help us make decisions. But we also have to look at what doesn't help us make decisions. In fact, the things that hinder us from making good decisions, these are called biases. If you aren't familiar with the word bias, I'm going to read you the dictionary.com definition for it. It is a particular tendency, trend, inclination, feeling, or opinion, especially one that is preconceived or unreasoned. You'll expand the term a little bit to include the word cognitive. Cognitive bias is a tendency to think in a certain way, in that preconceived way, that clouds your judgment. That makes you your rational thought isn't as effective. You aren't able to make decisions as well if you're under the influence of a cognitive bias. I'm going to talk to you about a weird and interesting cognitive bias that I uncovered on the great Wikipedia today, actually. It is so interesting to me. I thought I would share it with you. And it's quite applicable to the field of software development. But first, I'm going to take a quick sponsor break. Today's episode of Developer Tea is sponsored by DigitalOcean. DigitalOcean is simple cloud hosting built for developers. They're dedicated to offering the most intuitive and easy way to spin up a cloud server. In just 55 seconds, you can deploy a solid state drive cloud server. Plan start at only $5 per month for 512 megabytes of RAM, a 20 gigabyte solid state drive, one CPU, and a full terabyte of transfer. In addition to offering simple and affordable SSD cloud hosting, DigitalOcean is dedicated to building out a strong community and supports open source software. They offer a vast collection of hosting tutorials and invite Developer To submit articles, and they pay $50 per published piece. Deploy your SSD cloud server with DigitalOcean a day by going to digitalocean.com. Now DigitalOcean has been kind enough to provide Developer Tealisteners a discount of $10 when you use the code Developer Tea. So go to digitalocean.com and use the code Developer Teato get $10 off today. And you'll get up and running with your own SSD cloud server in just 55 seconds. That's digitalocean.com. So I've been talking about making decisions and about having an understanding of the things that stand in the way of us making good decisions of us having good judgment, specifically biases and cognitive biases, the things that make us think wrong or cloud our judgment in some way, and that causes us to make decisions that are uninformed or improperly motivated. A perhaps lesser known cognitive bias is called the IKEA effect. And yeah, that is the big store where you can go and buy a furniture that has not yet been assembled and you can take it home and open the 500 page long instructions on how to create your brand new chair. Now I have quite a bit of IKEA furniture in my home. I have a love hate relationship with IKEA. In any case, the IKEA effect occurs when someone places more value in something that they have created, then they would if someone else had created that same exact thing. The reason I find this to be really interesting is because this is constantly something that happens in software development. How many times have you seen someone create a framework that is subpar to one of the bigger frameworks? Is it a CSS framework? It has bugs in it and instead of adopting a bigger framework that has been tested and thoroughly used by quite a few more people than their home spun framework, they would rather sit at home after hours and fix the bugs in their own thing. Of course, there are external arguments like for example, I am more familiar with my own code and I want to be as familiar as possible with the code that I ship and that's a perfectly valid argument. Perhaps there is a business related benefit to being able to claim that you created everything rather than using prepackaged software. But the IKEA effect speaks to a more nuanced understanding of value. That is, to me as a programmer, I value my code more when I write it. I value the code of others even if that code objectively performs the same functions or produces the same results. Now why is this important for us to be aware of? Well, first of all, if I am managing other developers, if I am a senior developer and I'm working with other developers, I should be aware that I'm going to have a bias towards my own code because I have created it. This could lead me to be skeptical of the other developers code in the company that I work for. It could also lead me to be skeptical of outsourcing to other companies even if that objectively is the best business decision at the time. Now the IKEA effect is technically limited to consumers who partially create their own product, but it outlines a similar psychological phenomenon that I personally experienced and I'm sure you have seen it as well. And we need to be aware of this, especially when we're doing things like code reviews, for example, people solve problems in different ways. And if you are looking at someone else's code and you didn't write it yourself, be aware of the potential cognitive bias of the IKEA effect. Be aware that simply because you didn't write it, you could be valuing it lower than if you had written it yourself. So maybe try and exercise of assuming that you have written the code yourself. It's also very helpful to have some objective measure by which you perform your code reviews. Of course, this isn't going to be the same for every person and it's not going to be the same for every company, but having a consistent way to assess a given piece of code, whether that is written by somebody in your company or if it's done externally or if you are adopting a new code package like a library from elsewhere, having a consistent way to evaluate that code is the only way to avoid as much of this cognitive bias as possible. Thank you so much for listening to this episode of Developer Tea. I hope you've enjoyed it and I hope you will continue to listen. The best way to make sure that you don't miss out on future episodes of Developer Tea is to go ahead and subscribe. You can subscribe in pretty much any podcasting app, of course, there's also an RSS feed that you can find at Developer Tea. There's also show notes that you can find at developertea.com and if you want to listen to past episodes, they are there as well. There's only a few days left to vote for Developer Teain the 16th Annual Net Awards. If you would like to vote, go to bitley. That's bit.ly slash vote T, V-O-T-E-T-E-A, bitley slash vote T. And of course, that link will be in the show notes. Thank you so much for voting for Developer Teain the 16th Annual Net Awards. Thanks so much for listening and until next time, enjoy your tea.