How the availability of someone else makes you fail to find the best

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Reylito A.H. Elbo

HAVE you hired someone who’s number three priority in your shortlist of job candidates, because number one and two are either too expensive to pirate, if not they’re perfectly comfortable with their current employers?

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Thus, you’ve no recourse but to settle with the third priority, who’s available and willing to accept your offer. The same thing can happen when you try to solicit the help of a business consultant.

Most likely, you tend to give priority to a close friend or associate to do the consulting work for you over someone who has a better professional reputation and track record of making things happen because that someone charges an arm and a leg.

Making bad decisions happen because of irrelevant, if not incongruent reasons. They include economics, current trend, proximity, affinity, reciprocity, relationship, and worse—physical attractiveness.

This happens all the time, regardless of whether you’re in the private or public sector, except that it has become widespread in government contracts, as if there’s no abundance of laws protecting the citizenry from graft and corruption.

OK, fine. Assuming that your budget is relevant and you can’t afford to pay the asking price of the job candidate or potential consultant, then you must also be ready to accept the result, no matter how unfortunate it may appear to be. After all, peanuts are for monkeys, isn’t?

Thanks or no thanks to availability bias, which according to BusinessDictionary.com means “(t)he giving of preference by decision makers to information and events that are more recent, that were observed personally, and were more memorable. This is because memorable events tend to be more magnified and are likely to cause an emotional reaction.”

That’s why you give preference to some people whom you like best because you’ve worked with them before, they can be easily reached, you share the same interests, you belong to the same organization or graduated from the same university, you’re trying to return the favor, you like his past accomplishments, no matter how they pale in comparison with others—and worse, you’re attracted to that person’s physical attributes.

Also known as “availability heuristic” in psychology, it is called a “mental shortcut” that allows a person to recall the most recent activities and what’s readily available as solutions when trying to solve a problem.

This is one evil approach, if not an idiotic step toward decision-making. Who says the person nearby and is conveniently proximate to you is the best candidate? What’s the guarantee that since that person came from the same university from where you graduated offers the best solution? And what makes a recently-popular buzzword the best strategy against a company’s financial trouble?

The most common victims of availability bias are doctors. They prescribe drugs that are sold by pharmaceutical firms who recently sponsored their trips abroad. They know there are other effective treatments at a much, lower price, and yet they insist on using the same medication as a matter of priority, until it has been proven ineffective by the victim-patient.

The sooner a competing pharmaceutical firm offers these doctors another foreign trip to attend an international medical conference, then they change their loyalty to the new benefactor.

Management consultants are no better. If they come across a client who is at a loss on what to do with an almost bankrupt company, consultants would insist on using a ready, out-of-the shelf solution, without prior consideration of its total system, including the poor morale of the employees brought about by toxic management, poor pay package, or both, among other things.

Of course, we like The Carpenter’s song “Close to You.” But only to ask — “Why do birds suddenly appear…Every time you are near? Just like me, they long to be. Close to you.”

That’s why you have to shoo these birds away. They represent the same old solutions that you used before resulting in the same ho-hum results. Whack the birds away and go for the eagles who think differently than you do. We need more devil’s advocate than bootlickers who can do more harm than good.

Rey Elbo is a management consultant specializing in human resources and total quality management as a fused interest. Send feedback to elbonomics@gmail.com or follow him on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter for his random management thoughts.

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