Friday, January 13, 2012

Grand Promises

Secretary Vilsack said, according to the Des Moines Register: "
“We are updating our computer software, which dates from the 1980s, so that farmers will be able to do much of the application and paperwork from home rather than have to personally visit a USDA field office,” Vilsack said during a stopover in Des Moines on his return from Hawaii, where he had addressed the American Farm Bureau Federation."
 By chance this came just as I was reading Daniel Kahneman's "Thinking Fast and Slow", and had reached the point where he recounts a story that's appropos.  Seems he was on a task force to come up with a textbook in Israel.  They'd been working for a while (maybe a year, don't have the book handy), had an outline and a couple chapters drafted.  So they were planning on when they'd finish, which they thought would be 2-2 1/2 years.  Then Kahneman asked a task force member about his experience and knowledge of other similar efforts.  The person asked, who had been in full agreement with the 2 year estimate, said that 40 percent of such efforts had never produced anything, that the rest had taken 7 years to accomplish the result, and that the task force in question was below average (in resources, etc.) compared to the other task forces he knew of.  

I.e., bottomline, the task force was not going to achieve its goal timely, and likely wouldn't do it at all. 

The members of the task force gulped, and proceeded to ignore the information.  The textbook was actually delivered in 8 years, and was never used.

Two points Kahneman made: when the meeting took place, the members were near the peak of their commitment to the effort, and had just tackled some of the big, easy pieces, so they underestimated the drain on the effort from lessening commitment and grim reality.

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