A lot of people ask me how living in Madison is going. For those of you who don’t know, I moved from New York City to Madison, WI about six months ago. I can’t believe it’s already been six months, because I still feel like I’m in culture shock.
It is shocking, for example, that five blocks from where I live, people go ice fishing. Or that the town seems to revolve around schedules for the University of Wisconsin athletic teams. But the most shocking thing is the lack of advertising.
In New York City, the bombardment of advertising is so extreme that it all adds up to a reliable source of information about what’s going on in the world. Everything has an ad on it. The streets are literally lined with advertising. And there are newsstands every block, so the world’s headlines, too, are impossible to miss.
In Madison, we pass one or two billboards a day, if we drive across town. When this blog was mentioned in Business Week last month, I spent an hour driving around Madison trying to find a copy of the magazine. That’s when I started thinking about how isolated I am from the advertising world.
But it really hit home tonight when my brother sent a link to me about the mess in Iraq.
I wrote back: “The most interesting thing in here is the reference to Britney’s head. What’s up with her head?”
He wrote back: “She shaved it. Do you live in a cave? Did you know Anna Nicole Smith died? There was commercial-free round-the-clock coverage on the major TV networks.”
In fact, I didn’t know about the incessant coverage. We don’t have a TV. I have never had a TV, although I have a lot of respect for the content on TV. That’s why I don’t have one — because I know I’d watch it all the time. I’d watch it all the time because it is actually useful for finding out what a large segment of the world is doing.
As a kid, I went to other kids’ houses to see what I was missing. As an adult, I have always lived in big cities where you end up knowing what’s on TV even if you don’t have one. Probably in a large part because of the ubiquitous advertising. And when I found myself falling behind in those big cities, I could easily pick up a magazine.
Now that I’m in Madison, I need to take drastic measures. I am not buying a TV, but I am doing the next best thing: A subscription to People magazine. I know a lot about this magazine because it is laying on every available table top in New York City even though no one wants to admit to actually paying for it.
Knowing what’s going on in popular culture is important. It’s the world we live in. To be oblivious to popular culture is to snub one’s nose at the majority of society. And how can you claim to have good social skills if you are not interested in the majority of the people in this world? Good social skills means being interested in what makes other people tick.
Think about this in terms of work. It is clear that in order to get along with your co-workers you need to know how to understand what they want and how to give it to them. And in a large study of workplace preferences, Terry Bacon, reports in his book, What People Want, that good management means good social skills. “Most people leave a job because of their boss,” says Bacon. What makes a good boss? Someone who is concerned about what other people care about.
So either you need to know why Britney’s head is interesting this week, or you need to start caring more about popular culture. Being socially competent isn’t about just the brainiacs, or just the culture snobs. Social competence is being able to relate to anyone, and that means caring about a wide range of people.
I had a teacher in college who spent a semester convincing the class that reading the Iliad is important because all other college freshman are reading the Iliad and it is part of the common experience of college life — something to talk about. People magazine reflects the common experience of adult life. You can say that People isn’t that good, but you know what? Neither is the Iliad unless you like wars.
It used to be that finding a good paying career was the path to adult-life stability. Those days are over. What we think of as stability has to change, and how we get to that stability has to change.
Here’s a summary of the new employee of today’s workplace: Most will change jobs every two years. Most will start their adult life by moving back in with their parents. Most say that money is not their number one concern in evaluating a job.
You think it’s a recipe for instability, right? But what else is there to do? Work at IBM until you get a gold watch? There are no more jobs like that – companies are under too much pressure to be lean and flexible (read: layoffs, downsizing, reorgs), so workers have to be, too (read: constantly on the alert for new job possibilities).
In fact, stability is a big goal for new workers today, precisely because the old paths to stability don’t necessarily work.
For example, staying in one job forever is today’s recipe for career suicide. At the beginning of one’s career, it is nearly impossible to find something right without trying a bunch of options. After that, you will experience more personal growth from changing jobs frequently than staying in one job for extended periods of time. And if you change jobs frequently you build an adaptable skill set and a wide network which are the keys to being able to find a job whenever you need to.
Another example of the fact that common paths to stability no longer work: Professional degrees used to be viewed as a safe path, but now they box you into uncomfortable spots. PhD’s are having lots of trouble finding work due to the documented glut of qualified candidates, and the MBA is not a huge help to your career unless you go to a top-ten school. Doctors are having a hard time working a schedule that accommodates kids and pay back school loans, which is creating a surge in interest in the field of opthalmology – probably not what your parents had in mind when they were encouraging medical school.
The lack of stability is affecting people across the board: “All well-educated workers, even those at the top, are at much greater risk of economic reversals than they used to be,” wrote Jacob Hacker, professor of political science at Yale.
Finally, tried-and-true paths to financial stability are no longer reliable either. This is the first generation that will not do better financially than their parents. Anya Kamenetz describes in her book, Generation Debt, that young people today are in a much worse financial situation than their parents were, so the expectations for stability have to change. This financial situation is due to increasing college costs and decreasing parental ability to foot the bill. And real salaries are decreasing for entry level jobs. So new workers start life with more debt and less ability to pay it than their parents’ generation.
So it’s not surprising that the new vision of stability is not a house, two kids and pension. Most young people are priced out of housing markets in the cities they want to live in, like Boston. San Francisco and New York are seeing an increase in one-child families because people can’t afford two, and there are no more pensions. Period. The goals are more fluid – and they do not focus on old tropes of financial success like a house and a 401K.
Key values today are time and relationships. Stability means knowing you can get yourself work that is fun and accommodates those values. The stable people are those who can manage to consistently get work they enjoy that pays their bills.
It used to be that you worked really hard and paid your dues so you could retire rich and do what you love. But we know now that most people don’t really retire, so paying dues in order to get that is nonsense. Stability is knowing you have a life where you can do what you love, during your whole life, not just at the end.
The new way to find a good job – one that creates this stability — is to change jobs. A lot. And to keep an open mind about what a job really is, because what it is not is a lifelong commitment to one company.
Here are ways to use frequent job changes to create stability in your life:
1. Build up a strong skill set quickly.
Go to a job to work on a great project, and leave when your learning curve flattens out. The faster you build up your skills to create an expertise, the faster you will be able to set yourself apart from everyone else, and find good jobs quickly.
2. Get good at making transitions.
There are moments in a person’s life that typically throw everything out of whack because you can’t continue working in your job. Sickness, relocation, unexpected wrenches in one’s plan. When you are used to changing jobs, and you have taught yourself to deal with work transitions, then when your personal life requires huge transition, your work can accommodate that instead of get in the way. Changing jobs will be easy.
3. Make the most of the in-between-jobs time.
You can use job changes to make transition less risky. It’s very hard to know if you’ll like something until you try it. If you have been in corporate marketing for ten years and you want to try entrepreneurship, that feels like a big risk. But if you think you might like to start your own business but you’re not sure, taking a pause in between jobs to try this new business isn’t such a risky move at all.
4. Get out of paying your dues.
The idea of paying dues worked fine when there was actually payoff (think: Retirement communities in Florida funded by pensions.) But today paying dues doesn’t have nearly the payoff it used to, and in fact, creates instability by creating unreasonable expectations for a job you become overly invested in. So get out of paying dues by changing jobs frequently. Laura Vanderkam, workplace reporter for USA Today, wrote a book called Grindhopping about how to hop from job to job as a way to avoid paying your dues.
5. Keep your finances in order.
As long as you keep your overhead down, so that you don’t need a salary that requires 100-hour work weeks, then job hopping is actually a way to ensure financial stability. You know you are not going to stay at a job forever, and you don’t know when it will end. But you will always able to get work when your needs or your company’s needs change if you are good at changing jobs. This won’t be true, however, if you are a financial mess and have enormous overhead.
The best financial security today is to have great job hunting skills that never stop. Go to the best job, do it until you find another best job. This is the kind of person who will always be able to get money when they need it.
And don’t let people tell you that job hoppers will get penalized in the marketplace. Generation Y is job hopping every other year, and they are in incredible demand throughout the workplace. Demographics are shifting, and forcing hiring practices to shift as well. Take advantage of this. Create a stable life by getting good at changing jobs.
She just wants to be employed
for eight hours a day. She is not
interested in a career; she wants a job
with a paycheck and free parking. She
does not want to carry a briefcase filled with important papers to read
after dinner; she does not want to return phone calls. When she gets home,
she wants to kick off her shoes and waltz around her kitchen singing, “I am
a piece of work.”
by Beverly Rollwagen, from She Just Wants
The first summer job idea is you better get one. If you are in college, now is the time to gather experience so that you will have some idea what you want to do with your life when you get out of school. Graduating from college is a very hard transition. One way you can make it emotionally treacherous is to try to support yourself with a job when you have no experience in a job.
There are lots of different strategies to take when you are looking for something to do in the summer. But each strategy has one thing in common – starting now is better than starting later.
There is wide consensus that you really must be doing something in the summer that teaches you real world experiences. So don’t sign up for summer school thinking that businesses will be impressed. Surely you already have enough school under your belt. Eighteen years, right? Summer is the time to try something new.
Look for something that will help you grow personally and professionally. Even if you don’t have a great startup idea in your back pocket, you can still think big. You have good reason to demand that your summer job be fun and stimulating — there are enough jobs out there that you don’t have to take a terrible one.
Also, don’t restrict yourself geographically. When you have two kids and a mortgage then relocation is terrible. But in college, relocation is an adventure. Apply for summer jobs all over the country.
1. Get money to go to start a company.
You have to have an idea, but if you have a good one, Y Combinator will give you about $15,000 to move to Cambridge, MA and be surrounded by people like you doing the same thing. This is a great way to learn how to build a startup. The arrangement is friendly and supportive, and even if your company doesn’t get off the ground during the summer, you will learn a lot.
Relatively few women apply to do programs like this one. So I am taking a moment to encourage women to try it. Starting a company is not only about being able to program a computer. It’s about being able to see an unmet need and find a solution. Apply by April 2.
2. Experiment in social entrepreneurship.
Experience just announced a fellowship program that matches students with non-profits for the summer. The students not only get paid to do good, but they also get paired up with mentors from management consulting firms, which really makes this is a great learning opportunity. The fellowship program was only recently announced, so you may benefit from the fact that a lot of students don’t know it exists. Apply by March 1.
3. Call someone you want to work for.
Really. Just try it. The trick is to call someone senior enough who can make an independent hiring decision, but junior enough that there are not three layers of assistants protecting him. The person you call will be flattered, and mostly likely will listen to you.
Tell this person about what you can bring to the company. (Probably your most appealing offer will be some combination of your wet-behind-the-ears enthusiasm for working and I’m-younger-than-you flair for technology.) Also, tell the person your goals for the summer, so the person can understand how they fit in. Then ask for an internship. You just might get one.
What if you try all three of these ideas and they don’t work? Keep trying. You will spend a lot of your life job hunting. You may as well get good at it now, before your life depends on it.
When you look for a job or change careers, what you’re really looking for is a way to improve things in your life. But it’s hard to figure out what will really make things better and what will only make things worse.
There are some things we all know: People who are in love are happier, and people who are chronically unemployed are less happy. But most of us aren’t dealing with such clear-cut extremes.
Most of us ask ourselves on a regular basis, “What’s the best kind of work situation for me?” Yes, we’re all unique, but in truth we aren’t as unique as we think we are. So there are some rules we can all live by when looking for work we’ll love.
Liking What You Have
Forget the deep analysis. Our brains are simply not optimized to figure out what we’ll like. Instead, they’re optimized to figure out how to like what we have.
This helps us on an evolutionary basis: We eat what’s available, we take care of whatever kids we get, and so on. It doesn’t help us in a job hunt, where we have to guess what we would like if we had it.
Daniel Gilbert, a professor of psychology at Harvard, spent his whole career studying this sort of problem and published his findings in “Stumbling on Happiness.” Gilbert concludes that we’re basically unable to know if we’ll like a job until we try it, so self-analysis and market analysis aren’t going to get you very far. Start trying stuff.
You don’t have to quit your job to try things. Try new stuff on the weekend, volunteer for a project part-time, or ask for a temporary appointment to another department, for example. Be creative in how you learn about yourself. A job change doesn’t have to be now or never — it can be a process.
That said, here are some guidelines you can use for deciding what you’re going to try:
• Don’t go to grad school for humanities.
You would have had a better chance surviving on the Titanic than getting a tenure-track professorship in the humanities. The competition for these jobs is fierce, and very few corporate jobs give preference to someone who has a master’s in, say, early American history.
• Don’t be a lawyer.
Suicide is among the leading causes of premature death among lawyers. You can tell yourself you’ll be different, but statistically speaking, you probably won’t be. And while most lawyers don’t kill themselves, this doesn’t bode well for law being your dream career.
• Look for control over your work.
You might think that a manageable workload makes for a good job. But stress doesn’t actually make for a bad job. In fact, some people do very well in high-stress situations. Some even do their best work that way.
What drives people to burn out is when they work very hard but can’t meet their goals. The people most likely to burn out from their jobs, then, are those who are supposed to help children in helpless situations (at hospitals, for example) but can’t stop the pain.
Entrepreneurs, however, are known for working 18-hour days, and frequently love their work because they’re accomplishing something that excites them.
So the most important thing about enjoying your work, according to Alan Krueger, a professor of psychology at Princeton University, is having control over it — when you do it, how you do it, and what you accomplish. “People really like to be able to control the thermostat themselves,” Krueger says.
• Work where you can find a friend.
Take a look at the place you’re thinking of working. Do the people there look happy? Workplaces that promote friendship are more productive, and more fulfilling.
There are a lot of ways to judge whether or not you’ll be likely to make a friend at a new job. But one factor we often forget is architecture. Office space that promotes collaboration and taking a moment to say hi is space that is good for making friends.
• Don’t work with jerks.
Conversations that are insulting have five times the impact on your day than positive conversations. Unfortunately, we have a great memory for the unpleasant. Daniel Gilbert’s research supports this, but Bob Sutton, a professor at Stanford University, specializes in the jerk at work.
Sutton warns that if you work with jerks, you become one. His book gives advice on how to make sure you don’t end up working with these toxic people, and his web site gives you a way to test yourself to see if you’re a jerk yourself. After all, if you’re the jerk, you’re going to have a pretty hard time finding an office without one.
Work Life vs. Life Life
As you search for your new career, collecting advice as you go, remember that the stakes aren’t as high as you might think. A job is not your life.
Your personal life is your life, and your job supports that. The people who are most overwhelmed with career choices are the ones who think a career makes a life. So don’t be afraid to try a lot of options, and don’t be afraid to relax a little.
When I was a new manager, one of the steepest learning curves I had was how to adapt my communication style for the various groups I interfaced with: Technical, creative, executive. Fortunately, I had learned from my days as an arbitrage clerk that each group of workers requires a specific type of communication, so I spent a lot of time listening carefully to how other people talked.
So it makes sense that these tips on how to redesign a blog are really about how to communicate with a designer. Because good communication is essential to having a good experience doing a redesign.
1. Tell your designer you five most important things, in order.
This is what you want to convey in your blog. This will help the designer make interface choices – to help your audience focus on what you want them to see. For example, is your about me section really important? It is if you have a lot of expertise. Is your RSS information important? It is if you are aiming to build a large, loyal audience.
Also tell your designer the message you want to get across about yourself – are you friendly, authoritative, technical. This will help the designer figure out a look for your blog. The best way to get a design you love is to be really, really clear about what you want right here, at this stage.
2. Don’t ask your designer to train your dog.
Can your designer keep your dog from sleeping on your laptop? No. Of course your dog is not part of the designer’s job. Yet people dream up all sorts of non-design problems to toss over to the designer.
Problems like a boring bio, or a bad topic, or terrible category names (I have this last problem) are not design problems. If you comments section never gets used, the designer can’t fix that. Things are just going to be empty. And no designer can overcome the ugliness of a headline that is five lines long. Only you can rewrite incompetent headlines. Unless your blog is about design, design cannot compensate for lame content.
3. Don’t reinvent the wheel.
There are established conventions for blog design, and you need to have a totally incredible reason for bucking those conventions. For example, About Me is a heading and it goes on top. Just do that. Don’t bother with being inventive. It’s not worth it. Spend your energy being inventive with your content.
People want to know how to navigate your stuff as soon as they get there. I’ll learn a new navigation system to use Photoshop. There’s a lot of return on my time investment. I’m not learning a new navigation system to get through a blog I don’t even know if I’ll like. And don’t tell me that your radically new, reinvented blog interface is intuitive. It’s not. Because I intuitively look for an interface that is similar to the 55 million other blogs
4. Keep your design opinions to yourself.
There’s a reason you are not supporting yourself as a designer: You are not one. If you want to tell the designer what to design, then don’t hire one. My point is, leave the designer alone. If you don’t trust the designer to come up with something good on her own, then don’t hire her. If you think the designer doesn’t get it, then ask yourself if you have conveyed the information the designer needs.
In short, a bad design is often your own fault: You either hired someone who can’t design, or you gave bad information during point number one (above). In either case, you cannot solve this problem by becoming the designer yourself. You have to solve this problem by looking inside yourself to see where you went wrong. If you hired a bad designer, here’s an article on how to hire a better one.
5. Talk about your expertise, not the designer’s.
Instead of giving the designer instructions on how to do his job, tell him about your job. Note: This will be very difficult for people who have no idea what their goals are or how they are going to reach them. This is why good designers will not work with people who lack vision for themselves. Here are some examples:
Bad: What about blue? I really like the color blue.
Good: This design feels very edgy to me, but this blog should look like part of the establishment.
Bad: Good blog designs usually have an email me button on the top.
Good: My readers need to know how to contact me very easily, and I don’t think they’ll see the email me button where it is.
6. Know your own limitations.
With trepidation over the amount of work entailed, I agreed to add photos to my blog. I like how they look. But it turns out that my stock photos are pretty lame. And after about twenty emails from people explaining this problem to me, I have learned a bit about photos. So, like every project, you do your best at the stuff you’re best at, but there’s always room to learn. My learning area is the photos. For now, I opt for high quality, but free stock photos from sites like Burst.
One reader who complained about the stock photos is Annie. I asked her for suggestions on how to use photos differently and she sent some links. The links Annie sent showed me a different way to think about blogs. My favorite is HellomynameisHeather.
I’m annoyed that my new blog design has created a picture problem that I have to deal with, but it’s been a good opportunity to explore something new. And that, after all, is what blogging is all about.
Bruce Tulgan runs through 8 things in 2 minutes — tactics that will make you feel confident and effective as a manager.
One of the companies I founded was an online marketplace for city governments. My business partner was a fiftysomething guy who had been dealing with city governments forever.
Our investors in the first round were all his friends, most were over 50, and some assumed I was dating my partner because why else would he start a company with someone so young.
Investors treated me like it was an impossibility that I could have learned things fast enough to get into a room with them. And one investor asked me to leave a meeting at such an inappropriate moment that even my partner was shocked.
Then, about a year later, when I was looking for a job, the guy I interviewed with said, “Kids now think they can learn on the job and they don’t need an MBA. What do you think of that?”
I couldn’t believe it: He was calling me a kid in my job interview, even though I had already launched two companies.
He did this because he thinks it’s culturally acceptable to treat someone like they don’t know anything just because they’re young.
I’ve been holding off writing about Obama because the first (and last) time I took a leap into politics with my column was when I campaigned for Howard Dean, the week before he imploded. I told myself I learned my lesson: Politics is too volatile for a workplace writer to forge a path through.
But here I am again. Writing about politics. Writing about Obama and hoping he doesn’t implode next week. I have to write about him because while this is not an official endorsement, when he talks about leading a new generation I get giddy over the idea that we could be wrestling ourselves out from under the clutch of the baby boomers.
Obama talks about teamwork and community and the end of the me-me-me in-fighting that has characterized the recent history of baby boomer politics. A report in Newsday says:
“Obama represents the transition from the Baby Boom to Generation X… He spoke of a post-boomer sensibility, of moving beyond the divisions exacerbated by undue self-focus.”
I have this conversation with my (baby boomer) agent, and she says, “Everything to you is about generations.” And okay, there’s truth to that, but there’s also some hot air, because the baby-boomer generation is so huge that everything has been about them by default.
I am from a generation that had very limited power to do anything, anywhere, except live in the wake of the boomers. Even when it came to the Internet revolution in the 90’s, most of the people who got rich were the baby boomers who invested in companies that Gen-Xers operated.
This is why I get excited about Generation Y. It’s amazing to see this group, with all their demographic power, open up the world to change.
For the most part, I focus on change in the workplace. There were a lot of things that my generation wanted at work — for example, flexible hours, personal growth and the abandonment of competitive, ego-focused hierarchy in favor of team work. But we had trouble pushing through these workplace values because there were too few of us. The baby boomers could always just say no.
But generation Y wants so many of those gen-X things, and generation Y has the demographic power to make it real. It excites me to see this happen at work.
Obama is the political corollary. Finally there are enough voters, maybe, to vote for someone who is not a baby boomer. I don’t know if it will happen. But just that we’re talking about it is exciting. Because once we talk about baby boomers giving up control of politics, the talk of baby boomers giving up control of corporate life cannot be far behind.
But there’s a workplace lesson from Obama as well. He’s very tactful as he disses the boomers. He makes it clear that he is a bridge builder. That he is respectful of the fact that everyone has a place in history. And he is, above all, someone who has empathy for diverse backgrounds. These are all the same kinds of skills we need in the workplace today.
We are all engaging in a generational discussion at work, even if it is not as overt as an interviewer calling you a kid. We all come to the table with preconceptions and biases, but we all have to work together. So, in the near future, at lest, it’s the people who are best at building generational bridges who will succeed. This is something I personally work on every day, and Obama is a great role model.
It used to be your workplace identity was tied to your company. “An IBM man” is a phrase that comes to mind. Companies kept track of best practices, hot management ideas, and recent innovations in the business world.
Today our identity is separate from our company. We manage ourselves with the care that used to be reserved for special product lines. We realize if we don’t care for our career no one else will. And we cannot depend on a corporation to keep up to speed on ideas. We have to stay on top of new ideas for ourselves.
So, here are four ideas that you should consider using to guide yourself:
Pick a pace that’s right for you.
Today waiting the typical three to five business days for a package to arrive seems like an unbearable amount of time to some people, and news travels in real time — text-messages sent from parties to bloggers at home, ready to post.
Alexander Kjerulf self-published his book, Happy Hour is 9 to 5, because he thought the typical publishing cycle was too long. “I’m an impatient sort of guy,” he says. The book sells well on his blog, and he feels certain he did the right thing, for him.
Fast all the time isn’t right for everyone all the time. Adrian Savage, author of the book, Slow Leadership, writes daily on his blog urging people to accept that often workplace success comes from downshifting into a slow gear for a while.
Sloppy networking leads to sloppy results.
The founders of the professional networking site LinkedIn tell people in no uncertain terms that building a network has to be about people you know well. Yet every day thousands of LinkedIn users invite near-strangers into their network.
Newsflash: People you don’t know cannot vouch for you. People you have not connected with in an authentic way will not be move to help you when you need it. It doesn’t matter how full your LinkedIn account is, or how heavy your Rolodex is, if you haven’t really connected with these people, it’s not a network.
The opposite is true as well. If you build a strong network, its effects will ripple. Josh Boltuch, Elliott Breece and Elias Roman spent their last semester at Brown University launching Amie Street, a new model for selling music online. They had no marketing budget to get the word out, but they did have their network.
“We sent a few hundred emails to friends and family.” The crux of the marketing pitch? “We told everyone that a requirement for being our friend is to sign up for our site.” A few weeks later, without saying anything to the founders, someone told Mike Arrington about Amie Street.
Arrington has one of the strongest networks in startup America. Getting your startup on his blog TechCrunch is like getting your book on Oprah. And there was Amie Street, right there on Mike’s blog one day.
The next day, Amie Street had thousands of registered users.
What can we learn from this? That solid networks make solid results.
The Amie Street founders had a network that cared deeply for them — their friends and family. Mike Arrington’s network is truly dedicated to helping him find the best new startups. Amie Street is a success today because it started with a truly meaningful network.
Get away from jerks or become one.
If you want to enjoy your work, surround yourself with people who are enjoyable. Most people can tell an obnoxious person right away. But even in light of one of those horrible interviews, candidates often tell themselves they can work with jerks and not be affected.
“If you think you are going to change them, it won’t happen. It’s easy to resist at the beginning, but if you work with an asshole you’re going to become one” too, says Bob Sutton, professor at Stanford University, and author of the book, The No Asshole Rule.
Rude interactions have five times the impact on your mood that
positive interactions do. Sometimes you can encourage rude co-workers and bosses to be more positive. But not if you’re dealing with the worst cases.
How can you recognize those types you need to get away from? Sutton says they are addicted to subtle putdowns, interruptions and they use sarcasm as a way to make a (supposed) joke.
Respect your unconscious decision-making skills.
When you try to make a well-formed, thought-out decision, you will probably do a bad job unless the information in front of you is very limited, according to Ap Dijksterhuis, professor of psychology at Radboud University Nimengen in the Netherlands.
He found that in situations with a lot of variables, like which soccer team will win the World Cup, people consider too much irrelevant information–which city the game is in, for example–at the expense of more important information–such as the track records of the teams.
The good news is that our unconscious minds are very good at processing lots of information. We have known for a while that trusting our gut is a good idea. But Diksterhuis’s research (subscription required) shows that sleeping on a problem gives your unconscious time to sift through information and actually makes our gut decision better.