I can be quite a logical person; I enjoy maths and science and solving problems. Yet when it comes to personal, rather than academic, matters and decisions, I have to feel that I’m making the right decision, so after much analysing and deliberating I will nearly always go with my instinct. Despite this I often regret choices I’ve made, even if they felt right at the time. Does this mean that in future I should analyse all the options and make the logical choice (maximise)? Or should I carry on following my gut and learn to be satisfied with my decision (satisfice)? After all, you can never know what would have happened had you followed a different path, and the grass is always greener.
The thing with following logic is that you then have solid reasons to convince both others and yourself that you made the right choice. Whereas going against something because it feels wrong could just be falling into one of the psychological traps I mentioned in my last post. It’s a tough one, especially for someone like me who has a tendency to go with feelings rather than thinking.
(Gut feelings: The intelligence of the unconscious, by Gerd Gigerenzer)
This was a really interesting read, especially if you’re interested in psychology. In essence it talks about how our instincts, rather than being based on whim, could be based on unconscious intelligence and following rules of thumb appropriate to particular situations.
There are numerous examples of when using a simplified decision making process can actually be just as effective as using a more complex process. The author also argues that sometimes one good reason is enough to base a decision on.
A useful method is listing your objectives (so important to clearly state these, as I learnt from the last book) in order of importance, and then selecting the first option that matches. Say, for simplicity, you want to buy a pet. Your objectives are, in order of importance, for it to be furry, low maintenance and cheap. If your options are either a cat or a snake (as that’s all the pet shop has) then only one of your options satisfies your most important outcome so you take the cat. However, if your options were cat, snake and dog, two of your options fulfil your most important objective so you look at the next on the list. A cat is more low maintenance than a dog, so again you make your choice, only analysing as far down your list as you need to, without trying to maximise and cover all of your objectives.
Another interesting point is how people tend to stick to the default option. A key example is organ donation. If organ donation is the default option in a country then very few people will opt out, however if opted out is the default, then far fewer people will opt in. I guess this shows that people don’t like to make decisions!
Step 3 for effective decision making: It doesn’t have to be complicated – you can focus on your objectives and compare alternatives without maximising. Sometimes just going with your gut or one reason is actually a good choice too – ignorance can be better than information overload.