MBA Events, Mental Traps, and a Little Manliness

When I originally drafted this blog post, I intended to write about one of my major complaints with the CSUF MBA program.  After researching my complaint a bit though, my vision for this post changed.  I want to share the insights that led to my change of heart.

I receive emails almost daily from CSUF reminding me of upcoming MBA events and activities.  I opened an email Wednesday morning titled “Attend the 2-Hour Job Search Workshop!”  Intrigued, I read the email about the upcoming event but was disappointed to see it was scheduled for a Friday at 2:30pm.  Considering I work during the week, I realized I couldn’t possibly make it to the event and deleted the email from my inbox.

Frustrated that I couldn’t attend the event, my mind started stewing over the following thought: “CSUF always seems to schedule events during my work hours.”  And the more I stewed over the though, the more frustrated I became.  I enrolled in the MBA program with every intention of getting the most I could from my experience.  To me that meant attending workshops, learning from my professors and peers, making new contacts, and developing new skills.  My mind began stewing over the following question: “How was I supposed to do that when every event was scheduled during my work hours?”

So I decided my post this week would target CSUF’s poor scheduling.  I started going through my emails and write down the times for all the past couple months’ MBA events.  I was convinced that I remembered most of those events were scheduled during my work hours.  I couldn’t help but wonder, “What kind of a business school, with lots of part-time students who work 40+ hours per week, would schedule events during work hours?  How do they expect students to be able to attend?”

My brilliant plan backfired though the instant I began reviewing the events – of the 12 I reviewed from March and April, only 5 were scheduled during work hours.  I was stunned.  I could have attended 7 of those events!  Why had I thought so many of them had been scheduled during work hours?  I came to realize I had fallen victim to a common mental bias called the “availability heuristic.”

What is the availability heuristic? I guess the best definition comes from a post I read 2 days ago from one of my favorite blogs, The Art of Manliness:

“…we tend to believe that the easier it is to pull something from our memory (the more available it is to us), the larger the category and the more frequently the thing happens.”

The above quote is describing the availability heuristic.  In plainer terms, we tend to fall into the trap of believing that things at the “forefront of our minds” occur more often than they actually do.  And I fell right into this mental trap.  I assumed that because the last few events I received emails about were doing work hours, all of them must have been scheduled during work hours.  I was obviously proven wrong by my brief email experiment.

So now the obvious question is, how does my email experiment and the availability heuristic fit into this MBA blog post?  I think awareness of the availability heuristic is extremely important for managers.  The mental trap is easy to fall into (as illustrated by my poor line of reasoning), and managers have a responsibility to be as fair and unbiased as they can towards the people they manage.  For example, it may be tempting to think that because an employee recently made some mistakes on a report that he or she frequently makes those mistakes.  But as was illustrated by my experiment, those assumptions can often lead to incorrect conclusions.

It is important therefore, that managers avoid making these potentially costly assumptions.  I believe one way to do so is for managers to keep track the accomplishments of the employees they lead.  A written record or tracking sheet summarizing employees’ accomplishments (and mistakes) will provide the manager with (ideally) objective information about their employees’ activities.  Managers cannot let traps like the availability heuristic cloud their decision-making.  I know I would be mortified if I allowed such a simple mental trap trick me into not granting an employee a raise, for example.  This, and similar mental tricks, are extremely important for managers to be aware of, and they need to work diligently to avoid falling into these traps.

How would you recommend managers deal with the availability heuristic?  Leave your suggestions in the comment section below.

As for my interesting reading this week, I highly recommend the Art of Manliness blog.  This blog has provided me with endless informative and entertaining posts since I started reading it last year.  And it’s definitely not just for guys either.  The blog is written and maintained by the husband and wife team of Brett and Kate McKay, and I sincerely believe anyone can a post or 2 to their liking on the site.  I think you’ll find yourself going back to the blog over and over again for new posts and manly information.

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