Enjoying Your Work
Actions do not always follow from words
"As we expand our product line, I'd like to do some market research to see if there are enough potential customers for our new offerings," Sharon Chung told her staff.
Sharon was a manager in a company that marketed software programs for home computers in twelve retail outlets. One product in which she was interested was a publishing program that would allow people to write their own book with most of the features of professional printing companies. The program would also allow people to price and to market their books using password protected web links. The projected cost for the program was $200.
Sharon asked her marketing staff to prepare a questionnaire that would be administered to a wide variety of people.
"Lots of people feel that they have had enough life experiences to write a book, and I believe they will be able to do so using this software."
The marketing staff followed Sharon's wishes. After analyzing the answers to the questionnaire, the staff reported that a large number of people said that they would buy the software.
The people were also quick to describe the topics they had in mind for the books. These included life on a minor league baseball team, growing roses in Hawaii, improving the public school system, and the history of the banjo.
Sharon decided to sell the publishing software program in her company's retail outlets. However, the program sold poorly and Sharon's bosses expressed their disappointment.
The decision to market the software program was based on people's intentions as expressed on a questionnaire.
Sharon has encountered a common problem in predicting people's future behavior. What people say they will do is not necessarily what they will actually do. This is captured in the expression that "some people walk the talk." That is, for some people, if they talk in a certain way, they can be depended upon to follow through. People who only "talk the talk" become known as windbags who are full of empty promises.
Why is there a disconnect between what people say and what they do? One reason is that it is easier for people to talk about what they want to do than to behave in ways that are consistent with their intentions. Imagine a running event where people have to go over hurdles. Just about everyone can jump over hurdles that are 12 inches off the ground. But fewer people can smoothly jump over hurdles that are 40 inches high. Expressing intentions on a questionnaire is like traversing the twelve-inch hurdles. It is an easy task. Actually behaving according to one's intentions is like jumping over the forty-inch hurdles.
Another reason for the disconnect is that people are not always skillful at analyzing future situational pressures that may interfere with their intentions.
When engaging in the easy task of responding to the questionnaire, they don't think of reasons that would interfere with writing a book. These reasons include finding the necessary time, obtaining the necessary permissions if material is to be cited from other books, overcoming the writer's block that occasionally bedevils all authors, and responding to stories from friends about acquaintances who lost thousands of dollars trying to publish their books.
Before actually spending $200 for the software, people begin to think about these potential problems for the first time.
Professors in business schools sometimes use a joke to communicate the difference between stated intentions and actual behavior:
Four frogs are sitting on a log that is floating in a pond. The four frogs declare that they are going to jump into the water. How many frogs are there on the log? The answer is four because talking about a jump into the pond is not the same as actually doing it.
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The purpose of this column is to increase understanding of human behavior as it has an impact on the workplace. Given the amount of time people spend at work, job satisfaction should ideally be high and it should contribute to general life happiness. Enjoyment can increase as people learn more about workplace psychology, communication, and group influences.
Richard Brislin is a professor in the College of Business Administration, University of Hawaii. He can be reached through the College Relations Office: firstname.lastname@example.org