Just Me and My Pessimism in the ‘Race of Truth’

Kolata, G. (September 2010). “Just Me and My Pessimism in the ‘Race of Truth’.” New York Times Online. Retrieved on 6 November 2010: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/21/health/nutrition/21best.html

In this article the author recounts her experiences about a bike race she participated with her husband. Through the race she explains the factors that motivates people to stay with a sport, and mental strategies that would help in racing.

The author and her husband signed up for a bike race without knowing what they were up to. Although their motivation was not win, they wanted to check where they stand and how well they perform. At the race they were intimidated by other racers who were part of professional teams with professional gear and equipments. So the author and her husband became anxious and thought they performed very badly in the time trial race. But when the results were announced, they were happy although they were in the bottom heap. The researchers call this phenomenon defensive pessimism—where atheletes do a  social comparison with their co-participants and imagine they would perform worse if they are intimidated. But they would feel happy if they perform slightly better than a few. Research has shown that atheletes with defensive pessimism performed as good as atheletes with optimism. This defenisve pessimism also motivated the author and her husband to pursue the sport and prepare for the next event.

We could use the authors experiences in conjunction to game design. Games that are designed tough might intimidate new players and demotivate them from playing. But the succes of a game lies in its wide scale adoption. So game designers can embed defensive pessimism into games, and engage the users. They make the players feel they performed slightly better than they anticipated and motivate them to explore the game and eventually be in flow with the game.

The other key take away point from this article is that what works for some, doesn’t work for others. Defensive pessimism helped novice atheletes to perform better than they anticipated, and encouraged them to participate in the next one. This phenomenon could be extrapolated to motivate novice users of a product thereby creating compelling products. So when designing a product or service, it could be segmented to address the needs of different levels of users. Its similar to Howard Moskowitz discovery that there are no universals (there is no great tomato sauce, there’s only great tomato sauces!). So product designers can segment their products according various user levels, usage and levels of interaction. Even in this article the author who was a novice didnt use advanced gear initially. But as she got comfortable and more familiar she wanted to train and might have motivated herself to get professional gear to practice and race.