A few months ago I had the opportunity to coach several leaders in consecutive one on one sessions. It was mentally taxing to coach a lot of people in a single day, but I was inspired and energized by the conversations.
In one of the sessions we talked about a decision the leader had made a few weeks before that he now regrets. He was under pressure from several sides and from his boss to adjudicate a dispute. Rather than taking the time to think more deeply and make a decision that served all sides, he gave in to the pressure and made the wrong decision.
Are Humans Good Decision-Makers?
I’m sure we have all made decisions too quickly when the situation called for more analysis, thought, and time.Being smart and experienced doesn’t exempt you from this kind of thinking error.
If you take a close look at the psychology and neurobiology of decision-making, you may draw the same conclusion as most of the experts: Our evolutionary history caused humans to be good at making quick decisions about things we are highly experienced with, but overall we are bad decision makers.
To be specific, we are bad at making decisions that require careful analysis and thought. We are riddled with biases in our thinking; we are irrational; we base most of our decisions on assumptions we have not really tested.
Four Types of Decision
Each time we design a workshop related to critical thinking, problem solving, or decision-making, I go back to the research and look for new insights that might help us design a better program. There are many, many tools, techniques, and frameworks that help people make better decisions (see our Recommended Readinglist at the end of this letter).
One of the most useful tools comes from a Harvard Business Review article published in 2007 titled “A Leader’s Framework for Decision-Making” (Snowden and Boone, HBR Nov 2007).
In this article, the authors identify four types of decisionand give recommendations on how to approach each type. They also tell us how we get these kinds of decisions wrong and how to mitigate the risk of that happening.
Source: A Leader’s Framework for Decision-Making, Snowden and Boone, HBR Nov 2007.
For those who want to read the article, follow this link:
The Wisdom to do it Right
What is wisdom? It certainly isn’t all-knowing mastery of the challenges we face in life. I don’t know anyone who has achieved that, and I’ve lived for more than 50 years. In my view, wisdom is comprised of self-awareness, awareness of the world around us, knowledge, and the experience needed to apply our knowledge at the right time and in the right way.
One of the hallmarks of wisdom is knowing when we are likely to make the wrong decision and taking steps to prevent those situations. Learning from past mistakes is very useful to these efforts. See True Insights #18: The Power of Weekly Reflection for tips on how to do this.
Wisdom also means having the confidence to make a decision and move forward, knowing we have done our best to make the right decision.
I recommend five books for those who like to study the science of decision making and critical thinking.
We all regularly make important decisions in life. Making optimal decisions over a long period of time results in a happier, more productive life. May we all approach this process with as much wisdom as we can gather.
Yours in learning,