Francesca Gino offered an analysis of the small, simple, and seemingly irrelevant factors that can have a profound effect on our behaviour and our ability to stick to our decisions. She was joined in conversation by Bradley Staats, Associate Professor of Operations at Kenan-Flagler Business School. The discussion was moderated by Alanna Putze, Senior Programme Director at the Legatum Institute.

Sidetracked examines the ways in which factors such as the amount of lighting in a room, the bitterness of a cup of coffee, or the arrangement of office furniture, can have a significant impact on our decisions. In the book, Gino explores inconsistent decisions played out in a wide range of circumstances—from our roles as consumers and employees to the choices that we make in our lives more generally. Her research identifies when a mismatch is most likely to occur between what we want to do and what we end up doing, what factors are likely to sway our decisions in directions we did not initially consider, and what we can do to correct for the subtle influences that derail our decisions.

“The book was inspired”, Gino explained, “by the simple idea that, very often, things do not go according to plan”. There are, however, factors that make us “predictably unproductive”. Observations from behavioural science offer insights into ways to improve our productivity.

Gino also addressed the ethics behind decision-making, using findings from her research to make the observation that “even good people systematically fail from an ethical perspective” because of situational pressure. “We tell ourselves stories that justify our behaviour”, Gino claimed, citing examples and data from her book to argue that people begin with a decision, and then look for evidence that supports it. “It’s much more difficult”, she explained, “to ask ourselves if there is any information which speaks against our decision.” The challenge is then to design our decisions differently by taking these contradictions into account.

Professor Gino concluded that “the question is how we design processes differently so that we can stay on track and help others to do the same.” When people fall behind and fail to realise their objectives, she observed, the most common reaction is to “push on the accelerator” and work harder for longer. Instead, she argued, her research showed that the most productive response is to “take a step back, stop, and think”. 

About Francesca Gino
Francesca Gino is a professor of business administration at Harvard Business School. Her research focuses on judgment and decision-making, negotiation, ethics, motivation, productivity, and creativity. Her work has been published in many academic journals and also in The Economist, New York Times, Newsweek, Scientific American, Psychology Today, and The Wall Street Journal. Francesca also advises firms and not-for-profit organisations in the areas of negotiation, decision-making, and organisational behaviour. For further information, please visit her website at www.francescagino.com.

This event took place as part of the Legatum Institute's 'The Culture of Prosperity' programme. More information here.