Friday, October 3, 2014

Lovin' Spoonful -- "Did You Ever Have to Make Up Your Mind?" (1966)

Did you ever have to finally decide?
Say yes to one and let the other one ride?

As I noted in a previous 2 or 3 lines, it took me a long time to choose a song for the traditional father-daughter dance at my daughter Caroline's recent wedding.  (If you missed that post, click here to read it.)

That's my nature -- I often overthink even small decisions.

Some decisions are easy.  When you are presented with two choices, and one of them is clearly preferable to the other, it takes no time at all to make up your mind -- right?

An easy choice
Other decisions are more difficult.  When you are presented with two equally attractive choices, you hesitate to choose because it's not clear which choice is the better option -- right?


Actually, all decisions are easy.  Let me explain why that is.

Let's say you're at a friend's house for dinner, and you're offered your choice of red wine or white wine to drink.  

If you have a strong preference for red wine over white wine, your choice is automatic -- you don't hesitate for a second before choosing.  

But if you like both red and white wine equally, you're not sure which to choose.

Of course, you can't hesitate for long because doing so would be rude.  Your friend has other guests to deal with -- he can't stand there indefinitely holding a bottle of wine in each hand, waiting for you to make up your mind.

So how do you choose between red and white?  OMG, you just said you like both kinds of wine, so it doesn't really matter which one you pick, does it?  Just pick one, for crying out loud -- YOU CAN'T GO WRONG!

A different kind of easy choice
Of course, choosing between red and white wine is an insignificant decision.  But the same is true of choices that have more serious consequences.  

Let's say you're high school senior and you've been admitted to both Harvard and Princeton.  There's no obvious reason to choose one over the other, so choosing between them seems difficult.

IT'S NOT!  Both are extremely prestigious universities.  No matter which one you choose to attend, you'll be able to get a job on Wall Street and make oodles of money while doing nothing of benefit to society at large, SO IT DOESN'T REALLY MATTER WHICH ONE YOU PICK.

(Just kidding!  Some Harvard and Princeton grads don't go to work on Wall Street.  Instead, they make oodles of money while doing nothing of benefit to society at large by going to law school.) 

Let's review:

1.  It's easy to make a choice between two alternatives when one is clearly preferable, right?

2.  And it's easy to make a choice between two equally attractive alternatives because it doesn't really matter which one you choose -- they are both equally attractive.


A very easy decision
Except deciding on a song for our father-daughter dance.  That's difficult because it doesn't come down to deciding between two songs.  The choice here is whether to go with a song you know and like, or to continue to sift through the virtually infinite supply of possible choices -- which takes a virtually infinite amount of time.

Years ago, I learned a two-step rule of thumb for making a decision in such situations.

First, never choose the first acceptable option you come across -- keep searching until you find an option that is better than that one.  

When you do find that better alternative, stop searching.  Don't keep looking in hopes of finding a still-better option.

This rule of thumb applies across the board.  If you're looking for a wife, don't propose to the first woman you fall in love with.  Wait until you find a woman who's even better than that one, and propose to her instead.  

But don't keep searching.  Sure, it's possible that you will find a third woman who is even more perfect than the second one.  But there are no guarantees.  And if you strike out in that search, it's not likely you can go back to the second one (or the first one) and ask them to reconsider.

Hugh doesn't have to make up his mind!
I spent some time searching the Internet today, but I couldn't find verification of this rule of thumb.

I did find considerable discussion of a famous mathematical problem that is known as "The Fussy Suitor Problem."

Here's how a blogger named Gene Dan describes "The Fussy Suitor Problem":

[S]uppose you have 100 rankable suitors whom you will date one at a time, in succession.  After each date, you have the choice to either reject or accept the suitor.  If you accept the suitor, you cannot date any more candidates and are stuck with that person for life.  If you reject the suitor, you will not have the chance to date that candidate again and will move on to the next suitor.  With each additional suitor, you have the ability to rank that suitor unambiguously amongst your previous suitors.  The process continues until you either accept a suitor, or reject all 100 suitors and doom yourself to a life of lonely bachelorhood or spinsterhood.
Larry King: not a fussy suitor 
So, how do you maximize your chance of selecting the best candidate? It turns out the solution to the problem is to employ an optimal stopping rule. This means you date X number suitors, rank those suitors, and then choose the next suitor who is at least as good as those X suitors.  In this problem the optimal stopping rule is to date . . . about 37% of the candidate pool, and then choose the next person who is at least as good as the best of that 37%.
That's fine and dandy as a mathematical formula, but it's not very realistic.  I like my rule of thumb better.

(Seriously, how lucky are you that you discovered 2 or 3 lines?  This is extremely valuable advice I'm giving you here -- for free!)

One final note before we listen to today's featured song.

Twenty years ago, I was watching the I Love Lucy episode in which Lucy gave birth to her son, "Little Ricky" Ricardo.

Back in those days, fathers didn't accompany their wives into the delivery room.  So Ricky Senior was pacing up and down in the hospital waiting room while Lucy was in labor.

Ricky was so excited by the prospect of becoming a father that he couldn't contain himself.

"It's my first!" he said to an older dad who was calmly reading the newspaper while waiting for his wife to give birth.

"It's my last," the older dad replied laconically.

Here's hoping that my last child, Peter, has a very happy 20th birthday.  Click here to read the blog Peter recently started.

John Sebastian's "Did You Ever Have to Make Up Your Mind?" was a #2 hit for the Lovin' Spoonful in 1966.

The song contains this verse:

Sometimes you really dig a girl 
The moment you kiss her,
And then you get distracted
By her older sister.
When in walks her father
And takes you in line,
And says, "Better go on home, son, 
And make up your mind."

I don't know about you, but that never happened to me.

ApologetiX, a very popular Christian parody band with 19 studio albums to its credit, released a parody of "Did You Ever Have to Make Up Your Mind?" titled "Did You Ever Ask Where Cain Got His Wife?" in 2010.  (You know, that's a good question.)  Click here to listen to that parody.

Here's "Did You Ever Have to Make Up Your Mind?":

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

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