Tuesday, August 09, 2022

Rationalizing a Splurge: Not Just An Individual Decision-Making Error

Source: Tripadvisor

University of Chicago Professor Abigail Sussman has conducted some interesting research on how and why individuals tend to rationalize splurging.  She has studied this behavior in both the context of financial decisions and eating/dieting behavior.  Sussman finds that people tend to view decisions in isolation, and they view a particular consumption decision as a special one-time event.  Oh, it's a wedding, and it's a special celebration... so I can splurge on the giant piece of wedding cake.  Or, I have an event to attend, so it's ok to splurge on a nice new suit.  Examining events in isolation, as one-time events, enables us to deviate from disciplined decision making.  

People don't tend to look at categories of decisions.  For instance, there most likely are a series of opportunities to splurge on various delicious food and spoil our diet.  The wedding cake is not likely the only chance to splurge.  We have to stop looking at decisions in isolation, according to Sussman. 

The same logic holds for business decisions, in my view.  Company leaders sometimes can perceive opportunities or threats as one-time special events, and thereby justify an investment that might otherwise seem inadvisable.  For example, executives might convince themselves that this acquisition opportunity is unique, and that they simply can't let it pass them by.   They have to overpay, or they will never have a similar chance in the future.  Of course, the opportunity often is not that unique, and overpaying often leads to disaster.  Exercising some discipline and restraint is essential in these situations.  Ask yourself: Is this situation as unique as we are portraying it?

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