The Buriden’s Ass ‘method’ of decision making

The Buriden’s Ass ‘method’ of decision making is used when two or more equally attractive alternatives exist and it is difficult to make a choice. It is of course based on the old fable of Buriden’s Ass, who starved to death because he was tethered halfway between two equally large and succulent piles of hay – he couldn’t make up his mind which one to walk over to and eat. The approach is really simple; if the outcome of a choice between two options in terms of benefit is equally attractive focus on the drawbacks or downside risk of choosing an option. Pick the option based on minimising the downside – I am not sure how this would have helped Buriden’s ass but let’s put that to one side.

Example

Your kindly old boss wants to increase your salary but in the credit crunch times he offers you these choices:

1. Take an increase in salary,
2. Go part time and work fewer days per week at the current annual salary,
3. Take a long paid sabbatical each year of six weeks and continue at the same annual salary.

In terms of economic value, each of the three choices comes out exactly the same.

Now drawbacks of:

1. Is that I still have to commute each day to the office in rain or snow whilst
2. Means I will have to cope on my current salary for another year and my wife might nag and
3. Although attractive means I will be out of circulation for a long time and may lose track of my grip on the business and my job.

I’d go for 2) as although I get no rise this year there is a good chance I could get one in the future and spend the money on the extra days off I would have in the bank.

Try one yourself:

You are offered a choice of new assignments
1) an ex patriot assignment in Holland for 2 years
2) a promotion to manager of the small department you currently work within and
3) a transfer to the head office in London doing the same job as now but with a higher salary.

All are economically equivalent which would you choose?

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