The Cab Driver’s Dilemma

Pretend you’re a cabbie for a moment. Business has fallen due to start-ups like Uber and your boss stated yesterday that if you don’t bring in more money, you’ll soon be out of a job. Thinking about your family, you make a third loop around the block and luck is on your side when you pick up a fare from the Hyatt who’s on his way to the airport 25 miles away.

As you merge onto the highway, you learn about a 4-car pile-up that’s slowed traffic to one lane. Worried, the business traveler glances at his watch, realizing he’ll likely miss his flight. A local native, you know there’s a Metro stop at the next exit. If you decide to drop him there, he’ll make his flight, but you’ll lose out on the lucrative fare. What do you do?

Although you may not drive cabs, these dilemmas arise at work in many, sometimes subtle, ways. And while it’s simple to just “follow the manual”, life isn’t usually that clear cut. Often, multiple options can be rationalized and there are several factors driving our choices – personal values, situational context, peer pressure, ethical obligations, etc. And unfortunately, many of these often conflict.

For example, the cabbie’s heart may tell him to drop the traveler at the Metro, but his head might be imagining how he’ll tell his family he lost his job. And, what’s the contractual obligation of a cab driver? To escort you to your final destination, or to ensure you get there, even if by other means?

Research indicates adults make 35,000 decisions daily (200+ just about food!)*  At work, the higher up you climb, the more decisions you need to make. Do you know what’s guiding them? Most don’t stop to think about it (with 35,000, we’d never sleep!).

  • Is it more important to act on what feels right or what is measured?
  • Do you make different choices when you’re alone vs. when others can observe you?
  • Are you easily swayed by each new piece of information or by positional authority?
  • Does it make you more comfortable to have an option B before committing?
  • Do you wrestle with even the most basic daily choices?

Decisions are a reality, and we’re fortunate to have this freedom. However, if you don’t slow down to understand how your collective daily decisions are compounding, you may not see when you’re veering off course until it’s too late.

Happy hunting!

* Wansink, B. & Sobal, J. (2007). Mindless eating: The 200 daily food decisions we overlook. Environment and Behavior, 39:1, 106-123

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