Monday, May 01, 2023

What All of Us Can Learn About Decision Making From Baseball's New Pitch Clock

Source:  Sports Illustrated

If you are a major league baseball fan, you probably are enjoying the new pitch clock implemented this year.  Over the past few decades, games have become longer and longer, typically exceeding 3 hours.  In the playoffs, many games have exceeded 4 hours.  The increasing length of games and the slow pace were turning away many fans, particularly younger ones.   Interestingly, a scholar of decision making under pressure has suggested that all of us can learn a bit from the addition of the pitch clock in baseball.  Dartmouth College President-Elect Sian Beilock, a cognitive scientist, has argued that we might actually see better performance with the new time constraints for pitchers.  She extends that argument to many decision makers in an array of fields, arguing that situations without time bounds can actually increase decision fatigue and burnout, while yielding inferior choices.  We can spend so much time pondering and re-hashing our options that we become cognitively overwhelmed.  Here's an excerpt from a piece she wrote recently for Fast Company

My own research shows that we actually perform better under tight time constraints—especially when we’re doing something we’re good at. The performance of elite athletes is largely controlled by procedural memory and repetition rather than conscious thinking...  Too much time causes us to focus excessively on the minutiae of our performance, which can disrupt what we are doing. San Francisco Giants manager Gabe Kapler had it right when he said that the greatest advantage of the pitch clock will be “taking all the thoughts out of your head.”

Parkinson’s law suggests that when people are given extra time to complete a task, we’ll generally take advantage of that time, even if we don’t really need it. In other words, we don’t lose out by trimming down deliberation time. All we gain is extra time for our thoughts to percolate—and disrupt our performance... In a world where we are all facing 35,000 daily decisions, it’s worth taking stock of how too much thinking time might be causing more harm than help. The “paradox of choice” tells us that having too many options actually makes us less happy—an experience anyone who’s spent a night scrolling through hundreds of Netflix titles only to declare “there’s nothing to watch” knows well. In many ways, the absence of a pitch clock in our own lives could be viewed as the culprit for decision fatigue and burnout, which over half of Americans are struggling with today.

Naturally, we have to consider the context.  The performance of an athlete performing the same task that they have performed millions of times since childhood is far different than a distinctive strategic decision that a CEO is facing and perhaps has never encountered previously.  Still, we should think carefully about what happens when we delay decisions repeatedly in hopes of benefiting from further deliberation and analysis.  There is a delicate cost/benefit calculus at play.  The benefits of delay don't always exceed the costs, and those costs are not only associated with the danger of falling behind more nimble competitors in the marketplace. 

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