Enjoying Your Work
Richard Brislin

Hawaii and the ‘sun
and fun’ heuristic

County officials from many parts of the mainland United States are canceling their reservations for a conference in Hawaii. The media picked up on the fact that there would be a convention here, and many stories and TV spots predicted that county officials would bask in the sun and skip important meetings.

In this and related cases of people avoiding paradise when they have serious conventions or business dealings in mind, Hawaii is the victim of facile heuristics.

People are very busy and face many decisions on a daily basis. These include decisions about workplace improvements, service to customers, votes for political candidates, education for the community's children, time and money for the support of churches, and so forth. In a perfect world, people would have infinite time to make decisions about these issues. They would have the time and energy to research the issues, lists pros and cons of many possible choices, and apply weights to various options corresponding to their importance. With all this information, they would be able to make careful, highly rational decisions. But the world is not perfect. People simply do not have enough time for this type of careful decision making.

Instead, people rely on heuristics. These guidelines to quick if imperfect decision making are also known as "rules of thumbs."

Heuristics often can be summarized in memorable phrases or images that come quickly to mind. People then recall these phrases and images when it comes time to make a decision. Instead of reading every review before going out to a movie, a person can say, "Roger Ebert gave it three stars." Instead of studying every make and model before purchasing an automobile, a person can remember the advertisements that featured several enthusiastic locals talking about the respect they received at a certain dealership. Instead of considering all options for entertainment at a preschooler's birthday party, a person can remember the heuristic that kids always like clowns who can make balloon animals.

Hawaii can be the victim of heuristics when people in other parts of the world make decisions that involve us. What comes to mind when people think about Hawaii? The answer is some variant of "sun and fun," with related images such as surfers paddling out to the big waves and sunbathers lolling on the beach. This is a tough heuristic to fight when residents of Hawaii invite people to come here for serious conventions or high-level business discussions. The people who would come to Hawaii have difficulties communicating with others in their communities. They are almost certain to hear something like the following from their friends and work colleagues. "You're going to Hawaii for a convention? Yeah, sure! I bet you'll go to lots of meetings! I'll check the quality of your tan when you get back!"

People are well advised to know the heuristics that may be used negatively against them. I frequently discuss this issue when advising my students who are seeking jobs on the mainland. I advise them to be very careful when preparing their resumes. Hiring officials who read resumes may immediately think of the fun and sun metaphor and immediately conclude that applicants from Hawaii cannot have the seriousness of purpose that successful careers demand. For this reason, students from Hawaii should emphasize their accomplishments that will be attractive to hiring officials. What advanced certificates have they earned? What club activities did they lead? What internships did they complete during which they impressed executives? Applicants from Hawaii should take pains to combat the fun and sun heuristic and to replace it with another: "From reading this resume, I think that this applicant matches my view of what this company needs."

See the Columnists section for some past articles.

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: cro@cba.hawaii.edu

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