How heuristics influenced our social gathering

By Tracy Williams

Janet and Tracy

From left, Janet Pucino, author of the new book “Not in the Club,” and Tracy Williams, president and CEO of Olmstead Williams Communications.

Last night, we hosted 15 women executives in our office.  It was the salad-and-white-wine crowd with an edge as we listened to award -winning author, Janet Pucino, discuss the findings of her research on gender in business in her new book, “Not in the Club.”

In one of her slides she used the word heuristics, which stopped more than one of us who thought our vocabularies were pretty solid.  Janet told us that heuristics was  a decision-making process where you base your opinion on life experiences.  For example, there are employers who use heuristics when interviewing a woman of child-bearing years because his experience is they’ll be taking maternity leave, thus causing him a headache in staffing. Hueristic thinking creates biased-based decisions.

Still, I needed to know more.  So when I got to the office the next morning, I looked it up to set it in my mind:  “Heuristic (pron.: /hjʉˈrɪstɨk/; or /hyooris-tik/; Greek: “Εὑρίσκω”, “find” or “discover”) refers to experience-based techniques for problem solving, learning and discovery. Where the exhaustive search is impractical, heuristic methods are used to speed up the process of finding a satisfactory solution; mental short cuts to ease the cognitive load of making a decision. Examples of this method include using a rule of thumb, an educated guess, an intuitive judgment, or common sense.”

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Using either definition, I wonder how often do we use these “mental” shortcuts, these heuristics, in our business lives? Does it alienate us from new experiences? Do we allow our past experience to color innovation? I think it’s a great word to know and a concept I will work hard to keep in check.

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