I am sure you have often been presented with a question, someone seeking advice, asking if they should go for option A or option B. Should I take the job or not, should I buy this house or not, should I offer more money, or not, should I buy this car or that car, should I marry this person, or the other.
In all these the best advice is not to start from where they want to start. There is almost always an option C, and maybe D and E right up to Z, which includes the do nothing option.
The mental strain is clear which is why we often give in and just listen and then choose for them, but that is a big gamble and not what a good friend should do. It is chosen as an easy way out of the anxiety of not knowing what to do.
I think we should teach everyone what we can do to make good decisions. The process is not so difficult. You can make it more elaborate but these simple steps would work for most situations.
1. Assess risk: Which includes how immediate is the risk. If the decision really really has to be made now, go for your inner sense of what is right and stick with it.
If risk is big but not immediate then carry out these checks before moving on to the decision:
Check your reasoning, and maybe get someone else to check your reasoning. There are likely to be big holes in it. Check reasoning by checking the detail and the big picture, don’t make the mistake of deciding something big based on valuing something minor.
Check your reasoning with your intuition, does your reasoning feel right? Map out your reasoning then stand back and look at it. Does it look like a work of art or a work of fiction?
Check your reasoning with some creative thinking. Role play being someone else. Or just being you but different, older, younger, the other sex, no sex. See if your reasoning changes if you are someone else.
Similarly, if your intuition wants to do one thing then do some checks with creative thinking and reasoning.
The higher the risks the more checks needed.
When all checks have been done it will be messy.
Then take a walk, find your inner sense of what is right, and go for it.
If the right answer doesn’t stand out then both are probably pretty similar.
If the risk is not so big then you have more creative options available, so be creative, think ‘outside the box’, take your time, eventually you will either get so fed up that you just go for one option or you will find a dream solution.
2. Risk assessment may be enough, but you also need to consider if decisions are collaborative, that is, you need others involved in the success of the decision. So if you are thinking ‘should we all move to South America or India?’, then not involving others in the process will be pretty bad news. Bosses are pretty bad at this process, which includes mums and dads.
Collaborative work has to involve being creative or everyone gets caught in a cycle of diminishing returns. You end up with a mediocre compromise making sure everything people don’t like is excluded which usually means everything people really want gets thrown out too. And the more you access your intuitive deep desires the better the outcomes.
But don’t forget some reality check too, with reasoning as much as is needed, like measuring how much salt and pepper to add. Crowd wisdom can mean everyone gets to believe things which are just not true, not possible, not really wanted!
3. A sightly more sophisticated decision making process includes an assessment of complexity.
The first rule on handling complex problems is asking if there can be found a simpler problem which is as good if not better. Creative thinking where you cut out all the unnecessary stuff and just go for the basics will often enough mean you find a way to do something which is far less complex, and, by being less complex, far less risky.
In fact reducing complexity is mainly about reducing risk. The more complex it is the more risk you have got it wrong.
Complexity is also linked to collaboration, collaborative projects tend to be more complex than ones which you can solve on your own. So if complex and collaborative, make sure process 2 is followed thoroughly.
4. Finally, there is an assessment of how far down the line are you from start to finish with this decision making? So if you have bought the ring, booked the church, and the caterers, and the best man, but still can’t decide who to ask to marry, you are in trouble!
One of the worst aspects of decision making is the fact that earlier commitment to do things, and the cost in time and money and anxiety already spent, mean that later decisions are compromised, and are more difficult to do. For the aficionados of decision making this is called cognitive dissonance. It leads to terrible commitment to stupid decisions. It is best avoided by always having an open mind to reassess what you are doing and why.
So, there we have it, simple isn’t it!
I think this thinking was prompted by a discussion at a pub last night and I ended up saying I thought the order we did things in education was wrong.
I suggested we start with Primary Education, that’s fine, we know what we are doing and done well it works well. but then we should have all children become young people (aged 11 or 12) and get them studying on a degree programme. This is about really challenging their thinking at an age when it is exciting and brains can take in an awful lot of stuff. This seems better than giving them stuff which is mostly not true on the basis they are not ready for what is really true, which means you end up with a lot of children totally fed up with the hypocrisy and lies. The degree course has to include decision making of course, so it includes working on your intuition, creative thinking and reasoning.
Having done a degree (with lots of hobby options like sports, the arts, maths, science, literature, languages, but all as hobbies, no exams) at age 15 or so you get everyone learning skills for life, like growing food and cooking it, building engines, designing things, fixing things. At 15 you are ready for getting your hands dirty and want to make things of your own.
At 18 you are ready for life, and then can start on a path leading to some specialist careers (hopefully several within one life time).
Some more on the processes of the mind can be found in any or all of my 5 current books.
All comments welcome.