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Monday, October 23, 2017

Decision-making step by step

by ranfuchs (writer), CT, USA, January 02, 2012

Credit: Titian
A bad decision

Are you good at making decisions? If not, this may help

Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?’

That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,’ said the Cat.

I don’t much care where –‘ said Alice.

Then it does not matter which way you go,’ said the Cat.

‘— so long as I get somewhere,’ Alice added as an explanation.

Oh, you’re sure to do that,’ said the Cat, ‘if you only walk long enough.’

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Decisions, decisions, decisions. Love them or hate them, one thing’s for certain – you cannot avoid them. If you refuse to make them they’ll be made for you, and stop you from realising your potential and achieving your goals. There is no doubt that your personal and professional well-being is dependent on them.

For a long time scientists in areas like sociology and economy assumed that human judgment is generally rational. That is, people make the best decisions based on the facts they know. Intuitively, we, the non-scientists, have always felt that it wasn’t true and that people don’t make rational decisions. But it needed a Nobel laureate, Daniel Kahneman, to prove this to science: when we face uncertainty we resort to familiar patterns of behaviour, even when they are harmful to us. On the other hand, research has also shown that this can be changed, and professionals who are familiar with decision-making techniques can achieve superior results.

Many decision-making techniques exist, but as most of them are based on high-level mathematics, utility theory or game theory, and are not suitable for everybody. Yet, there’s a lot you can do to ensure that decisions don’t just happen to you unintentionally. First, you must be able to recognise your own state of mind whenever you’re about to make a decision. This by itself will make you aware and put you in control. Then, you may choose to apply some basic techniques to make your decisions even better.

Self-help books and magazines often recommend very simplistic methods of how to make decisions and choose between options. One of the most common approach is to list all the good points and bad points for each of your options and choose the one that scores the highest. This never works, as it ignores a very basic fact: not all points have the same relevance. You might like your date’s hair colour and his attire but hate his rudeness. Would the two positives compensate for the single negative point?

Oversimplification may lead you to the wrong decisions. There is no avoidance. Any good decision making will involve some complexity and detailed thinking. But if making the right decision is important for you and you’re ready to delve into the topic, you will no doubt improve your decision-making ability and your well-being as a whole.

Decisions and your career path

Nicolas Lore, the author of The Pathfinder: How to Choose or Change Your Career for a Lifetime of Satisfaction and Success, believes that less than 10 percent of people have passion for their work. “Plenty of people make career decisions that don’t work for them, because making a good choice is much more complicated than people think,” he said. So while good decision-making skills will help with any aspect of your life, your career is a natural place to start with. Let’s look at two real-life examples:

Ian, after many years as a senior manager at a multi-national company, decided that his understanding of the business world, his contacts and the money he had put aside would allow him to leave the unforgiving corporate battlefield and start his own business. After some investigation, he started a small trading operation, which proved a success. The business made nice profits, and after a few years, Ian had more free time for family and hobbies than ever before. He hated it. He missed the adrenaline rush, the politics and the excitement of corporate life. He felt that he had made a horrible mistake, but at his age, it was impossible to find a similar job again.

For Lynn, who had worked for many years in the financial world, career was about social status and respect. She loved to know the ‘right people’ and to be talked about. She had her house professionally renovated to suit the frequent social events she held, but was unhappy with the work done on her backyard waterfall and pond. She decided to learn to do it herself, so she read all the material she could find on the subject and took some vocational courses. It must have been her hidden talent, as less than a year later her garden looked magnificent. Her visitors were in awe, especially when they discovered that she had made it herself. Within a short period, she found herself spending her weekends making a similar pond for a friend. And then another one… until she decided to resign from her financial job and turn pond-making into her profession. “In finance I was always fighting with everyone, especially with my clients,” she says. “But now, making ponds, I fight with no one, and my clients become my best friends.”

Was it luck, or could we have guessed from the beginning that Lynn’s decision would have a good chance of making her happy and Ian’s decision would fail? The fact that Ian left his job not out of passion for anything else, but rather because he was unhappy with corporate life, may indicate that when making his decision, his mindset was confrontational, black or white, stay in the job or leave it.

The black-or-white state of mind

Unlike the ancients who naturally accepted that the world, controlled by powers they did not comprehend, was beyond the understanding of ordinary mortals, our modern world – influenced by commercialisation and pseudo-science – has developed an addiction for utmost simplicity. Contemporary fashion demands that for an idea to be appreciated it must first be simple. We’re sold easy-to-follow recipes for every situation or problem we may ever encounter: how to become a super-mind in 10 days, a fluent Spanish speaker in 30, and the incredible lover your partner has always deserved in only five steps. The quest for simplicity applies to every aspect of our lives, including decision making. The popularity of the black-or-white approach, in which you look at situations from two opposing viewpoints – right or wrong, good or evil, mine or yours, I like it or I don’t – is the direct result of this trend.

Despite its severe limitations, this way of thinking is ingrained in our psyche and it often overshadows any other alternative. This isn’t surprising. After all, from your very first days at school, you were trained that to become successful (that is, to get a high score) you had to find the one and only correct answer to every problem you were given. It didn’t matter if a problem had more than one possible solution, or sometimes none at all; the rule was always the same: either you answered what the teacher expected, or you flunked. In the following example, we’ll see that this way of thinking doesn’t even work in precise subjects like primary school mathematics; how can we then expect it to serve us in real life’s complex affairs?

To demonstrate, let’s look at the following question: what is the following number in the sequence 1, 2, 3 … ? If you didn’t throw the magazine away in contempt after such an intelligence-insulting question, in most likelihood you, like most adults, believe that the number 4 is the only right answer. In this case, you are the product of the black-or-white education system.

To understand why, let’s look at a similar question: what is the following number in the sequence 1, 2, 3, 11, 12, 13, 21, 22, … ? If you ever found this question in a job qualification exam, your answer would most likely be 23 and you’d feel happy to have been given a no-brainer. But have you noticed that the first three figures are the same as those in our first question? Doesn’t it mean that 11 should be an acceptable answer to the first question? But would you have passed the exam if your answer had been anything but 4?

This example isn’t as detached from reality as it might first seem. Many developments in technology, science, mathematics and new-age practices became possible only because someone had the insight and courage to challenge the canned, socially accepted answers. (Examples: Must one and one make two? Can physical exercise improve our minds?) For most of us, however, after years of conditioning, the black-or-white way of thinking has become modus operandi.

Black-or-white thinking will support and justify decisions you have already made. It’s most powerful when your mind is made up and you need to execute. However, when it’s time to make a decision, you should always ask yourself if you are in the black-or-white mindset and merely looking to justify a decision you have already made. If you are, snap out of it before you make your decision.

To make sure that you are making an honest decision and that your mind is not set, answer these three questions: First, do you know what you want to achieve? Second, what criteria are important for your decision? Third, what are your options?

What do you want?

In an environment in which action is considered a virtue and contemplation a waste of time, we can often backtrack bad situations to decisions that were made before anyone had spent the time to think what the decision was all about. This holds for both personal life and the corporate world.

During my corporate years, I interviewed many fresh graduates. “Why do you want to work here,” was always one of my first questions. “It’s a sound and profitable company,” was a common answer, which would have been suitable had it come from a stock analyst or investor. However, it was most unsatisfactory when coming from a candidate, as it didn’t show that they knew what they were looking for, or how the company could suit their needs. Admittedly, they did decide to come to the interview, and might have even prepared for it, but it was as if they didn’t choose the situation, but rather that the situation chose them.

“I know that the company is target orientated, and I believe that with my ambition I can progress fast,” or “Because of my family situation I need stability, and I know that this company offers good stability for hard working employees,” were much better answers. They clearly demonstrated that the candidate knew what they wanted and how the company could fulfil their needs (provided that they performed). It was, therefore, more likely that they would be happy and successful at their jobs.

This is true not only when you choose a job. Research has shown that those who knew what they expected when they entered relationships had a better chance of having a happy, lasting relationship than those who entered out of strong emotions only and were not clear about what they were after.

It’s a simple truth, known to everyone and yet not often followed: if you don’t know what you want, nothing will lead you there. So before making a decision, write down what you hope the decision will achieve. If you can’t put it down in a few simple sentences, you know that it’s not clear in your mind. Make sure you clarify it before you move on to the next step.

Criteria

Next, you need to decide what criteria should affect your decision. If we revert to career path as an example, you should be clear about what in a job makes you happy and what makes you unhappy.

For personal decisions, one of the best ways to find these criteria is guided imagination. Imagine your ideal job: you are passionate about it; you can’t wait to go to work in the morning, and in the evening when you come home you want to tell everyone about the wonderful working day you’ve had. What are the things that make this job so perfect? Is it the social environment and the interaction with the people? Is it your salary? Can it be your boss? Write down all the criteria that make the job ideal, and to each of the criteria assign a number that indicates how relevant it is:

1 ­– It makes me happy, but I could do without it.

2 – It is important for my job satisfaction.

3 – It is absolutely necessary for my job satisfaction.

You may be able to assign these numbers intuitively. But if you find it difficult, use your imagination again and try to eliminate one criterion at a time. Imagine your perfect job with a lower salary; how happy would you be then? Would you quit the job, or still be happy only wishing for a higher pay? If you do it for each of your criteria, you may end up with a list similar to that in table 1.

Criteria

Relevance

Salary

2

My boss

2

Social environment

3

Table 1: My perfect job


Repeat the process, but this time imagine yourself in your nightmare job. What factors make you so miserable? Write them down, and assign numbers to indicate how relevant each criterion is:

1 ­– It is irritating, but I could live with it.

2 – It makes me unhappy.

3 – I could never survive the job.

Table 2, for example, teaches us that while a bad boss would make you seek another job, you could accept the irritation of a bad location if you enjoyed other aspects of your work.

Criteria

Relevance

Location

1

My boss

3

Table 2: My nightmare job


Now, merge the two tables together. If any criterion appears in both tables, use the higher value. (In our example, ‘My boss’ appears in both tables, so in the merged table you should give it 3 – the higher of the two values.)

Criteria

Relevance

Salary

2

Boss

3

Social environment

3

Location

1

Table 3: All criteria relevant to my job selection


Your options

Once you know what criteria should affect your decision, you need to compare them against your actual options by assigning a Job-match figure that will indicate how well the job fulfils your expectations. For example, if you believe that in one of the jobs you are considering you are not likely to like your boss, give it (-1) based on the following list:

-2 – It will make me very unhappy

-1 – It will inconvenience me.

1 – I like it.

2 – It will make me very happy.

Make one table for each job. The first column will be your criteria; the second will be the relevance of the criteria, as established in the previous section. The third column should contain the Job match figure. And in the last column, multiply the relevance by the job-match.

Criteria

Relevance

Job match

Score = Relevance x Job match

Salary

2

2

4

Boss

3

-1

-3

Social environment

3

-1

-3

Location

1

2

2

Decision score (sum of all the scores)

0

Table 4: Decision score for job 1

Criteria

Relevance

Job match

Score = Relevance x Job match

Salary

2

-1

-2

Boss

3

2

6

Social environment

3

2

6

Location

1

-1

-1

Decision score (sum of all the scores)

9

Table 5: Decision score for job 2


Adding the scores will produce a decision score for each of the jobs you are considering. The higher this score is, the more likely it will be a better choice to make.

By no means is this the only decision-making approach, but it’s probably the most simplistic of all workable methods. It has proven itself in many varied situations, and it can be easily adapted to any type of choice you may need to make. But you must never forget that each method has its biases, strengths and weaknesses. So, regardless of the method you use, never let it make an automatic decision for you; instead, use it as an objective insight into your situation. After all, it is you who will enjoy or suffer the consequences, so it is you who must make the decision using all the insight you can get.



About the Writer

ranfuchs is a writer for BrooWaha. For more information, visit the writer's website.
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