Thinking About It Beats Repeating It

Thinking About It Beats Repeating It


When we have to choose between trying a new experience with a task or reflecting on previously accumulated experience, we are likely to choose the first option. We are convinced that doing is the most important component of learning, but we are wrong, as Giada Di Stefano has proved with her field and laboratory experiments.

The Professor of Strategy and three co-authors have measured the benefits of articulating and codifying an experience, focusing on activities with which ordinary people, students and corporate employees were unfamiliar. “It only takes a minimum level of familiarity with a task in order for a minute spent on codifying and reflecting on the experience accumulated to be more beneficial than a minute spent on accumulating additional experience”, she says.

The researchers initially tested their hypothesis on a hundred individuals doing a training program in a firm that provides back-office services to large companies in the IT sector. They were divided into two groups. One group was asked to spend the last 15 minutes of the day on their normal training activities. The other group was asked to spend the same amount of time on reflecting. The difference in participants’ performance surprised the researchers. “At the end of the training program, all candidates took a test. Candidates who were asked to replace practice with reflection improved their score by 20% on average. They continued to perform better in customer satisfaction surveys until one month after the end of the experiment”.

Two mechanisms explain the performance effects of reflection: 1) the individual’s increased self-efficacy, regardless of the quality of their performance; 2) better understanding of the task itself. “These two mechanisms coexist, but only the latter significantly mediates the relationship with performance. We replicated the experiment using many different tasks, and the result is pretty robust. Whether it’s finding images on a computer screen, solving math puzzles or singing in tune, our performance improves when we are forced to reflect”.

Read more about this topic:
Nicola Gennaioli. The naive illusion of human rationality
The Influence of Others on University Study Choices
Anger Can Hurt Us and Others
Other Peoples’ Choices Make Organizations Similar
Making Rational Decision Is Good for Performance
How the Axes of Political Belonging Change
Political Corruption Scars Young Voters Forever

by Claudio Todesco


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