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Human beings fascinate me. Sometimes they repulse me, sometimes they inspire me, and they are always an endless source of entertainment and curiosity.

I'm a geek who builds software products for a living. One of the many threads that weaves together to make our young industry is the oft-held belief that "the technology stack that I'm using is obviously better than everyone else's". Even in the total absence of any empirical evidence to support such a claim, it's a deeply held belief by many technologists.

Today I learned the term used in behavioral economics that describes this facet of the human experience. It's called the Endowment Effect. This hypothesis states that we over-value what we currently own over what we do not own. Regardless of its true value, or if we obtained such "thing" only moments ago, we will overvalue it when compared to another person's possession. This also means that if we own something that is generally valued at $100, we would only be willing to part with it for, say, $125. In the same breath, we would only be willing to pay $75 for it if we do not own it already.

Fascinating.

One of the reasons we do this is, possibly, because of another wonderful human trait called Loss Aversion. This is a hypothesis that claims that we are more affected, perhaps 3 times more, by a loss than by a gain. For example, if you lose $10, your feeling of loss is more powerful than the positive feelings of a $20 windfall.

So in the case of a technologist, the fear of our current skills becoming obsolete far outweighs the perceived benefit of learning a new skill.

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Steve Brownlee

Head Coach at Nashville Software School. Evolving software development education.


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