Updated: Jun 10, 2022
If you’re interested in improving your decision-making, here are our tips that we’ve seen be easiest to apply to real-life tough decisions!
Tips for speed
If you need to make a big decision in seconds, there’s no time to make calculations, consider options, or ask experts. Instead, just ask yourself, “what would my ideal self do?” This has a beautiful simplicity, and it’s just as quick as using your gut feel, but it appeals to the best bits of you.
If you have a little more time, maybe a few minutes or more, then just do the three most important parts of any decision-making approach. They spell POP.
1. Define the PROBLEM
2. Make sure you have at least 2 OPTIONS
3. PLAN to be wrong by using a pre-mortem (in brief, imagine you take option B, and in a year's time it’s been a disaster. Why has it been a disaster?)
Here are 6 more tips for effective, speedy decisions.
Tips for data overload and analysis paralysis
There is evidence that if humans have to make a complex decision, such as buying a car, then they end up making better choices if they only focus on around 3 criteria by which to compare the options. But that’s not what people do, they often compare cars on many criteria, and the criteria can change over
time (suddenly, reverse sensors become really important). So when you’re faced with lots of data, take a few moments to work out what are the 3-4 most important criteria you can use to choose between your options, and focus on having high-quality data in those areas only. In the great book Algorithms to
Live By they have more on this and show that even computers make better choices when they consider fewer criteria.
Be open to being wrong
The idea of being“in a bubble” is that we tend to only see news and views that we already agree with, for example, I read the Guardian, so I only see bad reports about Donald Trump. So I have a skewed view. I live in a self-reinforcing bubble. Kathryn Schulz has a great TED talk where she lands on the idea of having people“poke your bubble” and being open to being wrong. This is incredibly liberating because every time you realize you’re wrong….you are one step closer to being right. So get people around you who will poke your bubble about your decisions, and then be open to being wrong.
Helping other people make good decisions
When we hear about the topic of cognitive bias, we tend to think about how we reduce our own biases. In fact, it tends to be easier to spot someone else's biases. So once we have spotted someone else making a biased decision, how do we help them? The answer from my experience is to see if they are open to a bit of peer coaching, by which I mean you get to ask them non-judgemental questions, such as “what’s
the biggest problem here?” and “if that option was off the table, what would you do?”, and “can you play out the worst-case scenario with that option?”. This does rely on them being open to being coached. But it’s a lot more effective than telling them what to do.
Why not extend this idea to yourself and make sure you have a decision buddy, someone who can ask you the tough questions when you’re making a decision.
How to make good decisions when you’re tired
Research suggests you should try to avoid this as more biases and shortcuts will creep in. On average you will be more cautious and risk-averse. But if the decision won’t wait, then get out your pen and paper, to get the decision out of your head, and try to go through a systematic process of defining the problem, coming up with at least 2 options, and comparing them on the key criteria for success, and then when one option comes out ahead, doing a quick pre-mortem.
For more on decision-making and critical thinking check out our blog:-e.g.How to improve your decisions