Friday, May 27, 2011

Philosophically I am a libertarian (small l), with government regulations needed to create a fair and transparent playing field. Why is this relevant to an HF blog? I suspect that the “fair” part comes from being an IE and the “transparent” part comes from being a specialist in usability.

But my decades of experience with what Dan Ariely brilliantly calls Predictably Irrational and conceptually (although not normatively) explainable human behavior, I can see places where the performance environment makes “fair and transparent” insufficient. In these cases, although the libertarian in me cringes, the government needs to regulate further. This especially happens when there are negative externalities, leading to a “tragedy of the commons” effect. In these cases, Pigouvian taxation can create a nice balance between freedom and liberty AND an efficient business environment. There are also cases where people behave exactly the opposite of what we are trying to achieve because of effects such as vicarious goal fulfillment. In these cases, we need smart defaults.

If these are concepts that are unfamiliar to you, or that you have never thought of as HF issues, you have just figured out why I am posting this. They are important in politics and in business. And we have a particular expertise in figuring out what the balance should be to optimize system performance. Given the sorry state of areas like health care (politically, financially, and in the field), the environment, and education, my conclusion is that the world needs human factors professionals to be more involved in these Grand Challenges.

I hope to post more about specifics going forward. I would love to start up some deep discussion, even heated sometimes to get that productive friction going.

Have a great Memorial Day weekend and I will see you on here again soon.