Ep14 – Improved decision making. Practical advice

decision making

Studies show that people tend to choose badly. Provided satisfactory information, equipped with good thinking tools, focused on the process – yet still we prone to make systemic mistakes.

The problem is that we can’t really disconnect ourselves from all heuristics of intuitive mind – affect, representativeness, availability, social proof, anchoring, escalation of commitment etc. It always requires mental effort to deny those simplified problem solving tools and replace them with slower but more accurate ones. Sometimes, I dare to say, it requires some luck to remind ourselves of that we’re inclined to use those heuristics.

There is no particular reason why we should single out any of the heuristic in such practical advice on decision making, because, to some extent, all of them are helpful in some situations and vulnerable to general systemic errors in other. That being said – I want to point out that we can roughly divide those heuristics onto two categories: emotional motivators (of some sort, they compute situations and ignite our emotional responses) and simplifiers of thinking in terms of statistical probabilities (provide simplified criteria for estimating probabilities).

The first group is basically messing primarily with our subjective view of objective information. It means that we tend to put more emotional weight to some piece of information instead of other. For instance: we would respect one opinion over another because we have more sympathy towards one of advisors. Studies shown that we tend to even put ourselves in worse positions if it comes with “better” social image. Of course, there is no way to be sure if this predicted benefit in social comparison is true – we obviously can’t read in people’s minds. Even if it was true, it seldom is an optimal approach to sustaining happiness by comparing our status with others.

It is then crucial while facing important problem, to question the weight we intuitively put on different information. Ask ourselves if social comparison with our peers isn’t messing with our decision making process. Try and reflect on whether social proof isn’t only a superficial data and if it can produce more satisfactory outcome than objective value of other kind. Question the value of first impression, of anchor we’ve put on some information or attributes of other person.

The second group messes with subjective approximations of probabilities. Our intuitions are not so great when it comes to math and statistics. We tend to overvalue representativeness of situation and availability of similarities in our memories versus objective base probabilities and known to us factors that affect those numbers in greater manner than our individual experiences. Even scientists, trained in statistics make those mistakes if they aren’t focused on them specifically.

That sounds rather scary and yes, in real world it is virtually impossible to sustain such focus through every decision. But – not all decisions are born equal. Some of them have potentially greater consequences than other. Those are the moments in which it is our vital interest to focus and question intuitive traps we would otherwise so easily fall into. We won’t get it optimal every time, but do not let the perfect be enemy of good.

The shortlist of questions to prevent ourselves from falling into intuitive traps:
– Is my judgment affected by powerful emotions, such as anger, fear or contempt?
– Does the situation allow me to take more time and calm down?
– Do I tend to overvalue sympathy when estimating worth of available information?
– Could it be that I misjudge the importance of social proof and general social comparison over objective data and outcomes?
– Did I gathered and considered all sensible/relevant knowledge; am I satisfied with it or just being lazy?
– Am I biased because of stereotype or attribution I made on basis of (first or general) impression?
– Can I verify my estimations on probabilities in given situation?
– How my particular experience and flair for imagination are affecting my approximations for this problem?
– What is then the most rational and optimized decision in this situation, given this data, knowledge and time to consideration?
– And what if I’m wrong? Are the consequences and costs worthy of this decisions/investment in the long run? Am I really maximizing pleasure and happiness and minimizing pain and costs?

Please like, subscribe and take good care over your decisions
– Przemek Kucia

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