Someone mentioned a research study to me that demonstrated people are terrible at predicting what makes them happy. If you survey them, they’ll list what they think would make them happy, but they don’t actually know.
In fact, Daniel Gilbert, author of Stumbling on Happiness, talks about his research into what he calls ‘affective forecasting’ and how humans are so bad at it:
“People make mistakes when they try to predict what will make them happy in the future—a process that Tim Wilson and I have called ‘affective forecasting.’ Anyone who has ever said ‘I think I’d prefer chocolate to vanilla’ or ‘I’d rather be a lawyer than a banjo player’ has made an affective forecast. And anyone who has made an affective forecast has found out the hard way that sometimes they are wrong…People dramatically and regularly mispredict the emotional consequences of future events, both large and small.”
I’ve included a video of Gilbert’s presentation on his research at the end of this post. Although it’s a bit long, it’s very interesting and Gilbert has a knack for making his presentation entertaining, so it’s definitely worth the time.
As you think about, some of us get luckier than others. Right now, I feel like I’m doing exactly what makes me happy and I feel fortunate to have discovered my career happiness it at an early age. (I started my first company at the ripe old age of 14.)
But all of us go through transition periods. As I talk to friends who are making transitions, I find that beneath the surface, despite what most of us say or think, a significant number of people don’t really know what they ‘want to be when they grow up.’
You think the problem isn’t really that prevalent until you hear someone talk about what they want to do. A tell-tale sign of it is when someone lists a seemingly endless number of disparate options in response to the question of what they want to do. You start to think, “Those things aren’t necessarily related. What’s going on?”
The science of Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) provides a model for resolving this dilemma, and other aspects of product development have learned from it. In HCI, it’s widely known you’re not supposed to ask users what they want, you’re supposed to observe their actions to get an understanding of what they want or expect the application to do.
If you come right out and directly ask users what features they want, they’ll say A,B and C, but until they use the software they won’t really know. You have to see them in action to know what’s really going to resonate.
Humans just aren’t good at predicting what will make them happy.
The reality is that we are only a product of our experiences. If you haven’t experienced what makes you happy yet, how could you possibly know?
In some ways, this is what the Kemists is going to be about: putting talented people into different situations to find something that really works.
And now, the Dan Gilbert video I promised: