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8 reflections from 50 decision blogs

Nothing is more difficult, and therefore more precious, than to be able to decide.” – Napoleon Bonaparte

Blog 50 - Woohoo!

This journey started trying to answer the question 'how do we really make decisions?'. I read the standard decision-making books which kicked off a load of conversations with friends and colleagues. This ended up with me trying to put these ideas into my own words to make them more approachable and shareable. I feel like I'm just getting started.

Mostly importantly, thank you readers. You have supported, challenged and guided me to cover topics that I think we should all be more aware of. The best thing to come out of it is the hundreds of conversations that have emerged with you – there are surprisingly many people interested.

When do I research and write?

I often get the question, how do you find the time? Blogging does not actually take that much time now - I write my blog on my tube journey to and from work. At the start it would take a whole week to research and write a blog, but now I can research it in a journey to and from work and write it during the journeys the next day. Although I had a head-start. Most of my reading had been done prior to starting the blog.

8 reflections from reading and writing about decision-making.

1) Integrity: We sometimes think of the best decision-makers as the most intelligent (i.e. the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills). Intelligence is only half the game. Without integrity, intelligence is very dangerous. The high intelligence, low integrity combination been seen in many of the leaders who have been responsible for plunging their companies or countries into dire straits. Serial killers and many other dangerous criminals have had high IQs. I do not believe that any system is immune from the effects of people with low integrity.

2) Don't wait - Just start: Some decisions are quite binary, but most are not and can be staged. Sometimes we have to just start and see where it leads us. Starting small in 'no regrets moves' overcomes the impacts of procrastination and analysis paralysis. I have found that my motivation significantly increases once I have started, which is the exact opposite of 'you need to wait for the right moment'. Starting also allows you to sample and experiment and gain new information. This manages the risk of new ventures.

3) Systems thinking: The world is a system, and things like the economy and nature are very complex systems where simple cause and effect does not cleanly apply. We cannot understand every interaction that is going on and the impact it might have. Trying to manipulate complex systems often results in unintended consequences. Barbara Streisand tried to sue a website for posting a photograph of her home. Before the lawsuit only 6 people had downloaded the file but the lawsuit drew attention to the image, resulting in 420,000 people visiting the site. The Streisand Effect now describes the unintended consequence of when an attempt to censor information creates a chain of events that instead draws more attention to the material.

4) Combative debate does little to advance the argument: Skilled debaters can win an argument on both sides of a debate. The skill of the debater matters more when 'winning' a debate, particularly when there is an incentive to win. I find that combative debate (like the Oxford Union debates) is a showcase of the debater rather than of the arguments. (Shameless plug) see my next blog as to some of how important decisions should be made.

5) Hindsight bias (Wise after the event): People can convince themselves after an event that they accurately predicted it before it happened. This can lead people to conclude that they can accurately predict other events (many gamblers and day traders fall into this trap). Hindsight bias exists because our memories are fallible and not time-stamped. Writing down at the time a decision is made, why it was made, stops people revising what they thought they thought at the time.

6) Confirmation bias: We seek out information that confirms our pre-existing beliefs and ignore evidence to the contrary. How do we combat this? It's not a function of intelligence but openness. Without a willingness to believe that you could be wrong i.e. intellectual humility, you will not be able to approach disconfirming evidence in the right manner. Replace 'I do not want to be proven wrong' with 'I do not want to be wrong' to make changing your mind more palatable.

7) Priming: The atmosphere or set-up can influence a person's decisions, without their conscious awareness. Whether a word, sound, sight or a smell a person could be made to think differently. For example, if someone is talking to someone wearing medical overalls, they are more likely to think of risks and hygiene. Marketers use priming techniques to influence consumer behavior by subtly incorporating positive associations with their brand or product ('sex sells'). Impulse buys with subsequent regret often occurs because we are caught up in the atmosphere.

8) Find something to do undistracted: The world today is intentionally distracting. We are constantly being tempted by alluring adverts, people are trying to get our attention to persuade us and the technology we carry with us (constant notifications!) is endlessly distracting. In this backdrop, I have found reading and writing as a retreat. I encourage you to find your retreat.

Thank you for joining. Next week - 'The decision-making process?'. Don't forget to sign up to the subscription list.


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