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Extraordinary Decision Making

--> 26 11 2006

by Arman Darini, Ph.D.
Decision Making

All right, good to be talking with you again. Today we’ll take a deep dive inside THE single most important ability you have as a human being. If you are poor in this area, then… well, it’s rough to be you. And if you excel at it, then the whole world is at your fingertips. However, even if you excel at it, I know that you are not nearly as good as you can be. How come I know?

Because all of us without exception (ok, maybe there are a few extraordinary individuals out there) were NOT taught this ability. We picked it up at random in the childhood, by watching adults, who in their turn picked it up at random in their childhood, ad infinum. Somewhere at the beginning of this great ancestral chain is a not-so-smart monkey, if you catch my drift.

So you have more chances of winning a lottery - twice, than being really good at it right now. But, I *know* from years of training experience, that you CAN become *amazingly* good at it. With results so far reaching and important for your life, that your grand grandma will wake up and hug me for teaching you this skill.

“Enough of pulling my leg. WHAT IS IT?”

*Drum roll* Decisions, decisions, decisions. How well (or how badly) you make decisions. Not any specific decision, but how good is your *process* of deciding. Bet you never even thought about that!

During the last 100 years, psychologists have studied how people make decisions. How great generals do it, how Olympic champions do it, how house moms with ten kids do it, how lonely priests do it. The results are inspiring.

They (psychologists) have figured out the structure of extraordinary decision making AND the most common psychological traps all of us fall into. I will talk about some of the most frequent traps that your mind stumbles in (trust us, it does - hundreds of experiments have verified this) in the next article. Today we are taking a closer look at the structure of extraordinary decision making.

The structure is the sequence of steps you must follow to get the result you want. If you skip or change the steps, you get different results. If you mess up excellent decision making steps, you get messed up results. Of course, once you become an excellent decision maker, you can be more creative with the steps, but until then it pays to follow what those people do who are already amazing at it.

There are three steps to extraordinary decision making: 1) Frame the problem. 2) Collect information. 3) Draw conclusions.

Let’s look at each of these steps in detail.

First, you frame the problem by asking a specific question that you want answered: Do I want Chinese or Italian today? How do I double my salary? Where can I find the love of my life? That question forms the frame for the decision, because it highlights some aspects of the problem while pushing others into the shadow. EVERY question that you can possibly ask will focus your attention on one thing and hide another thing. For example, I might have also liked to get some sushi, but that alternative is outside the frame. It might be just as easily possible to triple my salary, but that’s outside the frame. Maybe instead of searching for my love, it’s better to wait and have her find me, but that’s outside the frame as well.

The moment you frame the problem, you delete chunks of reality from the consideration. So be careful what you delete. Way too often the initial decision frame crops the best alternatives out. Examine a few decisions you made recently - how much time did you spend on framing the problem? It should be 5-20% of the total decision making time.

Second, you collect information that you don’t already know. And this is key. What you think you don’t know and what you actually don’t know are light years apart. Time and time again, experiments have confirmed that we are GROSSLY overconfident in our knowledge (we don’t have the time or the inclination to do it here, but at our trainings we demonstrate that fact to you beyond any doubt - it’s highly worth having this etched into your mind).

The single best strategy to avoid overconfidence (let’s not confuse confidence with competence here) is to ask disconfirming questions. You are probably used to asking questions that confirm your intuitions and beliefs. You need to do just the opposite - ask questions that disconfirm your opinions. For example, suppose one of your alternatives for doubling the salary is to get a second job. A confirming question would be: “How will getting a second job double my salary?” A disconfirming question would be: ‘How can getting a second job fail to double my salary?” Think of it as playing the devil’s advocate with your decision alternatives. Only then you can make sure you have got solid, high quality information essential for extraordinary decision making.

Third, you take all the information and the decision objectives, and make the best conclusion. How you come to the conclusion is important. Some people flip coins, others hesitate until they grow so frustrated they latch onto the first conclusion they see. Yet others trust their intuition, and a few even apply linear models (weighing pros and cons). None of these is the best all the time, each has its own uses. I personally would flip a coin to decide on the restaurant, weigh pros and cons to triple my salary, and trust my intuition to find the love of my life (don’t try this last one yet - intuition CAN be an incredible tool, but you have to develop it first, lest it gets confused with inner chat). What’s important is that you are aware of the method you use to draw conclusions, and know when to use it and when to switch to something more effective.

So there you have it, extraordinary decision making in a nutshell. Of course, to master it you need a few more details. And lots of practice, the opportunity for which, luckily, happens several hundred times a day.

You’ve just read TIP #84 FOR CREATING AN EXTRAORDINARY AND MEANINGFUL LIFE brought to you by Holographic University. To get the next Tip visit us at: MAGAZINE SIGN UP

May You Be Happy! - Arman Darini, Ph.D.

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