Is it always possible to make a good decision?

There’s a growing interest in how to make ‘good’ decisions.

Think about this – there are some things you make better decisions about than others. Almost no-one has it all. So, what are the areas in which you already make good decisions?

Some of your ‘bad’ decisions will have been made through inexperience. That’s okay. Just make sure you learn positively from these experiences and you will begin to make fewer of these.

Some of your ‘bad’ decisions will have been made through emotional bias. We all have tendencies, idiosyncrasies and ingrained habits. Our thinking processes are no exception to this. Where there is conflict in our choices (e.g. green salad or chocolate cake?) it’s useful to separate which choice will feel better from the choice that will be better overall.

As for the rest, consider that many decisions can only be evaluated in hindsight.

Let’s test that out. Flip a coin and cover it so you don’t know the outcome. Choose: heads or tails? Now, before uncovering the coin, ask yourself: was that a good decision? It’s really hard to know whether it is or not. Now uncover it and see the true outcome.

Actually do the experiment so you can experience the learning with your body and senses.

You might object that the result is random. So attempt to have the coin come up tails then repeat the experiment.

Now for the most important question – has that experience helped you to make a better decision next time you flip the coin? It really hasn’t, has it? A ‘win’ last time may lead you to feel more confident of your decision this time. A ‘lose’ last time may knock your confidence a little the next time around. However, objectively, you’re really no better off. It’s really difficult to be definite about a decision where the outcome is unpredictable, or largely out of your control.

So this type of experience does not refine your decision-making process in any useful way.

You might argue that decisions like this don’t occur in real life. But just think about how many random contributors there are to most outcomes. Sometimes one or more of those random contributions will become significant, like a change in the weather or a crucial person who changes their mind.

These experiences are also being created artificially as part of game dynamics. Imagine this scenario:

While playing a game, suppose you receive a large reward. If you want the reward again, you’re going to try to figure out what you did that resulted in getting the reward. So you will keep playing and try a variety of likely approaches – ones similar to those you were doing before you were rewarded.

But here’s the twist – suppose the reward is actually being given out at random. What happens to the psychology of the player under those circumstances? The player thinks they somehow caused the reward and further experimentation will yield no lasting match between cause and effect. The usual effect is cognitive dissonance – the player becomes confused and highly motivated to find the ‘winning’ pattern. The result is similar to patterns of addiction, especially if the reward is big and occurs early in the process.

These ‘games’ are not always explicit (like tetris or roulette) but are now becoming part of other processes where customer engagement is a key part of the system.

In these ‘unknowable’ cases, it’s more important to make a decision, rather than hesitating too long.

Instead of trying to make a good decision, how about

  • taking calculated risks
  • becoming good at course-correcting

Let me know your opinions on this in the comments below.

Is it always possible to make a good decision? by

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