The Human Element in Investment Decisions
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Making strategic investment decisions is not a task that should be taken haphazardly. Managers and MBA students spend time studying appropriate decision criteria such as net present value (NPV) to aid in making profit-maximizing decisions. However, in discussing investment decisions with practicing managers over the years, we sensed that managers often systematically deviated from profit maximization. In particular, we noticed that managers often equate changes in scaled profit measures (e.g., changes in return on investment [ROI]) with changes in total profits (i.e., marginal profits). This causes them to deviate systematically from profit maximization with respect to strategic investment decisions (e.g., research and development [R&D] investments, capital investments, acquisitions) by avoiding investments that increase total profits yet are less profitable than their average current investment. In other words, current levels of average profit create an anchor by which investments are assessed. This decision-making behavior, subtle but critical, was recently demonstrated by NYU Stern Management Professor Zur Shapira.
Professor Shapira, along with Carlson School of Management Professor J. Myles Shaver, devised studies that teased out this counter-productive pattern and described it in “Confounding Changes in Averages With Marginal Effects: How Anchoring Can Destroy Economic Value In Strategic Investment Assessments.”