Performance Goals for Human Decisions

I've often asked myself whether we, humans, make decisions in a similar way to what RTD does. Do we balance different KPIs? Do we evaluate the different options and chose the one that maximizes our performance goals?

To answer this question one would have to ask what are your performance goals and how much do you value each one of them. It would seem logical that our decisions would be made in such a rational way that they are totally driven by the evaluation of each alternative and the selection of the best one.

Following this logic, one could surmise that if we were able to discover the performance goals that are relevant for a specific person, and the weights for each one, we could be very good at predicting human behavior. Instead of using the Inductive prediction models like the ones we have today in RTD, we could use Deductive models that mimic the logic of the person to arrive to the predicted behavior.

Fortunately, as learned by modern economists and brilliantly put by Dan Ariely in his book Predictably Irrational, human decisions are typically not the result of rational optimization, but heavily influenced by emotions and instinct.

This is one of the reasons that rule systems perform so poorly in trying to predict human behavior. A rule system would try to detect the reason behind the behavior. Empirical, inductive models work much better because they do not try to discover the pattern behind a behavior, but the common characteristics of people; and while we can not rationally explain many of our behaviors, we do see a lot of commonality. While we are each a unique individual, it is possible to predict our behavior by generalizing from what is observed about people similar to us.

I was recently on a Southwest Airlines flight. As usual, travelers had optimized their seat selection according to what was available and the convenience, mostly preferring seats by the front of the plane, windows and aisle seats. Can we predict whether you will prefer a Window or an Aisle? Absolutely, just look at the history of the seats that the person has chosen in the past. While you may claim that such a model is obvious, it is a good model based on generalization of past experience. I can still not answer the question of what are the motivations for some person to preferring a window seat, but I can predict with great accuracy which one will you prefer on a specific flight.

Once everyone had selected their seat there were about 20 middle seats left in the plane. Just before the door closes, a mother with a child enters the plane in a hurry. She evaluates the situation, and for her the Performance Goal of being beside her child was the most important. Since all the "eligible" choices were not good, she tried to create a new choice, asking the flight attendants for help.

As the attendant was starting to make an announcement to ask for someone to give up their Aisle or Window seat, I saw the situation and immediately offered my aisle seat. Then, of course, I tried to figure out why I decided to do that? Why others didn't? Was it purely emotional or there was a Performance Goal mechanism involved?

Sure there are benefits to giving up you seat in a situation like this. For example I got preferential treatment and free premium drinks from the flight attendants for the rest of the flight, but I did not know about those benefits. Are there other hidden KPIs?

I would like to hear from you. What are the Performance Goals that motivate people to action? Is there a moral framework within which decisions do follow KPI optimization?

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Issues related to Oracle Real-Time Decisions (RTD). Entries include implementation tips, technology descriptions and items of general interest to the RTD community.

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