If you want something complex done well, give it to a busy person!

We have all heard the phrase “If you want something done, give it to a busy person”. We all felt that there is some truth in it.

Research done by Dijksterhuis and van Olden recently seems to take this insight to another level.

The research was performed on how Decision Making and the likelihood of  Regret are linked and produces some very interesting results. Let’s look into it.


As mentioned in Richard Wiseman’s book 59 Seconds, a few years ago Dijksterhuis and van Olden conducted a study whereas, subjects were shown five posters and were asked to use three different techniques to make a decision. At the end of this process the subjects were given the poster of their choice and a month later the researchers called them and asked them how they felt about their decision and what amount of money would it take to part with their originally chosen poster. The results are surprising.

At the time of the experiment the researchers broke the subjects into three groups.

  1. The first group was asked to immediately choose the poster they liked the most.
  2. The second group was asked to study the posters well, list what they liked and did not like about them. Only then, to make a decision and choose a  poster.
  3. The third group was quickly shown the posters and then they were asked to do anagram puzzles for 5 minutes. Only after this process, they were asked to choose a poster.

At the end of the experiment, all subjects from all three groups were handed over the poster of their choice, and then a month later they were asked how much they liked the poster then and how much they would sell it for.

Surprisingly, at the time of the experiment the subjects in Group number 2 (the ones that were asked to carefully consider the pros and cons) were the most confident they had made the right decision.

A month later though, it was a completely different story.

Group number 3, (who was shown the posters quickly and then did puzzles before eventually making a choice), were the most attached to their chosen poster and wanted more money to part with it.


The explanation of this behaviour is attributed to what is called, the theory of the Unconscious Thought.

A good summary of it can be found here and below.

Unconscious thought theory (UTT) was first presented by Ap Dijksterhuis and Loran Nordgren in 2006. UTT posits that the unconscious mind is capable of performing tasks outside of one’s awareness, and that unconscious thought (UT) is better at solving complex tasks, where many variables are considered, than conscious thought (CT), but is outperformed by conscious thought in tasks with fewer variables. This is a countercurrent position, as most research on UT since the early 1980s has led to its being characterized as simple and incapable of complex operations. Dijksterhuis’ and Nordgren’s theory is based primarily on recent findings from a new experimental paradigms.

The interesting article, titled, The Beautiful Powers of Unconscious Thought by Dijksterhuis himself (here), elaborates on the facts and nuances of these important findings.


So, what does this mean in practice for everyday work life?

Well, I think that this data supports the position that managers, supervisors and organisations need to make an effort to fill the days of their teams with meaningful projects and try to engage them (ideas on how to do this can be found here and well as a method on innovation here and here).

Moreover, as mentioned here we have to move one step forward from being busy to becoming productive as, the key question is not if we are “doing” something but if we are “effective” in what we aim for.

Hence, the organisations need to create an environment conducive to best utilise the theory of the Unconscious Thought aiming of course the more complex of projects. I trust that more research will be done on these important findings in the future that will verify and expand our understanding in this important field.

How did you handle your last complex task allocation?

Image of Ap Dijksterhuis courtesy of Radboud University Nijmegen / www.ru.nl


About Geovrakas
George Vrakas (MBA, CCMP, CMILT) is highly reputed in the field of services procurement and logistics and has presented on topics such as, Globalisation, Services Procurement, Leadership, Continuous Improvement and Personal Productivity at various venues and Universities in Melbourne. He has also been the host at industry events and published articles on Procurement and Contract Management at various online publications. George was a Board member of the Chartered Institute of Logistics & Transport Australia (CILT Australia) from 2011 until 2016 and also a member of the International Association for Contract & Commercial Management (IACCM). George holds an MBA from Victoria University specializing in International Supply Chain Management and Applied Economics, he is also a certified Commercial Contract Management Practitioner (CCMP), a Green Belt Lean Six Sigma expert and holds a Lloyd's Maritime Academy certificate in KPIs for Ports and Terminals. He also holds certification on variety of topics primarily relating to Contract Management, Negotiations, International Regulations, Problem Solving and Change Management.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: