Why Oprah is cool…

Four years ago, whilst on a business trip I met an elderly couple from Yorkshire in a hotel bar in Lisbon. I had seen them arrive in reception and was intrigued as to why they were travelling with a Spanish coach party. They explained that they had moved to Almeria in Spain some time ago. On their first visits to Almeria they had been seduced by the picturesque olive groves, the beautiful, spacious villas and the warm climate. At the time demand for these villas was high and prices were rising fast, so they quickly sold their more modest house in Yorkshire and bought their own villa in Almeria with an olive grove and a swimming pool. However, after 5 years or so, they were finding it hard going. The olive grove and swimming pool had proved awkward and costly to maintain, the frequent hot, dry winds made it harder to enjoy time outside, and they were missing family, friends and particularly grandchildren, back in the UK. Unfortunately, moving back, at that time, was not an option. Property values had collapsed in Almeria following the financial crisis of 2008/2009 and they could not afford to return to Yorkshire. Short-term emotion had got the better of them.

Short-term emotion is a common, and well researched, problem in decision-making. Most of us have experienced high-pressure sales techniques that rely on hitting our “short-term emotion hotpots”. These most commonly take the form of quickly building our relationship with a product or service (“take it for a test drive”, “free for the first month”) and then threatening to remove the opportunity (“offer expires tomorrow”). The same factors drive us to stay in jobs we don´t like anymore (loss aversion) or to continue with gym memberships we don´t use.

Psychologists and researchers provide some insight into how to combat short-term emotion. They talk about “getting some distance”, (like doing your research away from the point of sale), or “staying true to your core values”, (re-evaluating the proposal in the light of long-terms goals or beliefs).

In 1988, Oprah´s talk show went national. This provided her with a choice: she could choose to own the show herself via her own production company or she could simply take a salary. Taking a salary would be a lot less work, and entail much less risk. Short-term emotion was pushing her to avoid “rocking the boat” too much. “Going national” was a big deal, and it would be hard enough without the added complication of setting up and running a production company. However, after consulting with trusted friends and advisors Oprah decided to set up her own production company. For Oprah, her prime concern was providing a platform for the stories and causes she believed were important and ownership of the production company would give her much more control than as a salaried employee.

What is striking about this decision, and much of Oprah´s decision making since, is the “coolness”, Oprah doesn´t fall prey to short-term emotion. She certainly has passion and feeling which she can use to devastating effect when espousing her causes, but she does so as part of a carefully calculated plan of how best to provide a platform for what she feels strongly about. She uses the tactics that the psychologists talk about, gives herself time and distance, consults broadly with people who are not like her, and then thinks about what she wants in the long term.  So the next time you feel pressured into making a decision quickly, perhaps take a moment to think about what Oprah would do – can you be that cool?

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