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How to Make Better Decisions

How to Make Better Decisions

What ingredients make for better decisions? No question good analytics contribute. But, sometime, the algorithmic fringe holds a key to innovative insights. The margin also has clues to unintended consequences. Pre-mortems that flush out unintended consequences add a layer to critical thinking.

But before you check the box on having a solid decision-making process, here’s something else to consider.

Max Tegmark, Physicist, MIT; Researcher, Precision Cosmology; Scientific Director, Foundational Questions Institute wrote an article on how scientific principals would fundamentally improve everybody’s cognitive tool kit.  Tegmark starts with a simple assertion:” a scientific lifestyle requires a scientific approach to both gathering information and using information.”

We spend tons of attention on what we do with the information we have. That’s the using piece.

But, Tegman says, “You’re clearly more likely to make the right choice if you’re aware of the full spectrum of arguments before making your mind up…”

Here’s what’s worrisome about most people’s approach to decision making.

In Steven Johnson’s book, Farsighted: How we Make the Decisions that Matter the Most, Johnson’s research shows most people take the opposite approach to decision making.

Johnson sites work by Professor Paul Nutt at Ohio State’s business school. Nutt set out to catalog and research decision making processes. Here’s some of what Johnson reports Nutt found:

“only 15% of the case studies he researched found decision makers who actively sought options beyond their initial choices. Only 29% contemplated more than one alternative.”

Nutt found that” participants who considered just one alternative said their decision was a failure more than 50% of the time. Those who contemplated at least 2 alternatives felt decisions were successful 2/3 of the time. “

More options considered = better decisions.

Keeping up with mountains of new information and data is exhausting if not impossible. However, an approachable way to start a discovery process is to purposefully seek alternative perspectives.

Perspectives provide a frame for discovery questions in a manageable context making it easier to surface possibilities hiding in divergent points of view.

I don’t know about you, but I bump up against limiting perspectives on a regular basis. Limited perspectives don’t just contribute to fewer options. Our inability to get beyond a singular point of view makes it easy to get stuck and contributes to energy wasting conflict.

Want to develop a decision-making system that incorporates multiple perspectives?

• Johnson suggests that when facing a Whether or Not question, turn it into a “which one” question to trigger more available options.
• I have two favorite perspective opening questions I use: “How would ________look at this?” and “What or who are we missing?”
• I’ve also had success using a low-tech perspective wheel to encourage creative insights.
• Ask me about the 90-minute hands-on workshop I’ve developed that gives teams the opportunity to play with perspective expanding tools. (We can incorporate a question your team is currently facing, or I can introduce a neutral case study.)


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