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Decisions, decisions.

It was a real task to get this blog out – couldn’t decide what to put in it!


I find the topic of decision making a fascinating one.  I wouldn’t write a book on it, but I have read many. 


In this blog I share my four key thoughts on the subject:


  • There is no such thing as a bad decision, just different outcomes.

  • We all have a tendency towards certain decision-making styles.  We can make better decisions by understanding our own style.

  • We would do well to watch out for the most common decision-making traps.

  • There are many useful models for decision making.  I will share 4 of my favourites.

 

There is no such thing as a bad decision, just different outcomes.


If I offered you a bar of chocolate, would you take it?  Would it be a good decision?

If you are hungry and have no immediate access to food, well then, yes, take it.

If you are on a diet, then no.

If you are allergic to chocolate, definitely not.


So, now I have to back track.  Because if you did eat the chocolate and you were allergic, that would be a bad decision!

But bear with me.  I make this comment because I find that we often prevaricate and can tie ourselves up in knots in the pursuit of the perfect decision.  When often, there can be several, good decisions with equally good outcomes.


There are however three things that can help our decision-making process.

 

Understand your Decision-Making Style.


The Myers–Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) (Myers-Briggs) is a popular introspective self-report questionnaire designed to indicate psychological preferences in how people perceive the world and make decisions.  It was constructed by Katharine Cook Briggs and her daughter Isabel Briggs Myers.

 

Basically, there are two dimensions that influence our decision making.

 

1.      WHAT information do we focus on – factual or conceptual?

People who are factual tend to base their decision on the facts they have available to them, and they tend to trust what has happened in the past, and previous decisions they have made.

 

People who have a conceptual preference tend to base their decisions on patterns and ideas that they see emerge, and they trust their intuition. They focus on possibilities that they might generate,  more than past experience, that they simply repeat.

 

 

2.      HOW we process that information.

People who are logical thinkers like logic and analysis.  They like excel spreadsheets and tables that lay out the facts in an organised manner.

 

People with a sentimental preference will be those individuals who like to consider the impact upon, and influence of, others.  They look to find a solution that encompasses everyone’s concerns and consider the opinion of others.

 

This in turn generates four decision making styles. 

 

Let’s do lunch.

 

Let’s look at each of these four decisions making styles and how they might go about making the decision about where to go for lunch.

 

 

The first is a combination of Factual – Logical decision-making.  Let’s call them the Data Focus folk.  These individuals like to seek out specific facts and use problem solving models as a basis for creating alternative options. They will really trust experience, and logical experience at that. They are likely to look to policies that have worked in the past and apply them to new situations.

 

E.g. Where do I go for lunch? I want vegetarian.  I know of three vegetarian restaurants nearby, I’ve had a good experience at X, so let’s go there.


The second combination of Factual – Sentimental. Let’s call them the People Focus folk. They like seeking the opinions of others.  They like to use options which are supported by people who are important to them, and so they base their decisions on what people need or suggest in a situation.

 

 E.g. Where do I go for lunch ? Ask the opinion of others and follow the crowd to a popular lunch spot. 

 

 The third combination is Conceptual – Logical. These individuals seek patterns in data (rather than focusing on the data itself). Let’s call them the Pattern People.  They like to generate ideas and new possibilities from their past experience. They tend to base their decisions on the logic of the patterns that they can see.

 

 E.g. Where to go for lunch? The last time the weather was this good, it was lovely to sit outside. Let me think of the restaurants nearby that have a nice outside space.

 

The final combination of Conceptual – Sentimental is about generating new ideas and possibilities. Let’s call these the Possibilities Focus folk.  These individuals often seek out the opinions of others to generate new possibilities.  They are more interested in what might be, than what has been. 

 

 E.g. Where to go for lunch?  We often joke that this type of individual never makes it to lunch because they are too busy discussing all the great options with others!

  

How do I know what style I am?

You can go online and find out from the many sources that provide MBTI profiling.  Or you can make a pretty good guess yourself from the following summary:

 

If you tend towards Factual – you love the facts.

If you tend towards Conceptual – you are engaged with the possibilities.

If you tend towards Logical – you evaluate using spreadsheets and analysis.

If you tend towards Sentimental – you evaluate by considering others and getting their opinions.

 

 Important note:

 

-    No one style is better or worse than the others.

-    We probably use a mixture of styles, but likely to have a preference or tendency towards one.

-    The benefits lie in being aware of each style and the impact, so we can make better decisions.

 

 

How is this useful?

 

This is not about putting ourselves into boxes with regard to the ‘type’ of decision making that we tend towards.  Rather it is about using the model to help us understand what biases might be in our decision-making process for any given decision.

 

Just this week, I was making a decision regarding our annual holiday.  I realised that I am very much a factual person when it comes to ‘collecting’ information (factual). I do the research and gather the data.  But my decision-making process is very influenced by the opinion of others.  I look for personal ‘reassurance’ that my decision is a good one and will work for others (sentimental).

While doing on the research on accommodation, I came across a great accommodation option. However I was put off by the recent reviews (sentimental).  In addition, I was falling into the ‘anchoring trap’ (see more on this below) by putting too much emphasis on this recent review, when overall the feedback was good.

 

What to watch out for…..

 

 ● If you are too data focused – you might ignore information about options being tried by others or ignore the impact on people’s life and work.

 

● If you are too people focused - you might be short on data and solve the wrong decision.

You may forget to think through the implementation of your decision.

 

 ● If you are too pattern focused – you might misjudge timeframes and structures needed for implementation. You might ignore the impact on others. You might develop logical solutions that are very difficult to actually achieve. 

 

● If you are too possibilities focused – you might ignore information from the past or fail to assess the logical consequences of each option. You might be overly influenced by the views of trusted people. 

  

Some decision-making models that might help.

 

There are many useful decision-making models out there.  I share with you four of my favourites.


1.      The Matrices Method.

This is great little tool for deciding between several options.

It will appeal to factual, logical thinkers, but is important for conceptual, sentimental thinkers!


So, get out the spreadsheet and list out…

-Your choices.

-The variables that influence these choices.

-Rank the variables in terms of importance.

-Rate the choices according to the variables.

- Calculate the weighted some for each choice.

Make your decision based on the highest weighted results.


Not as complicated as it sounds! Easy to understand with an example….

Back to booking my holiday.   I need to decide between four options.



I can see from the final scores, that Option 1 is the winner.  This is a great technique for making a decision where there are several variables involved in the decision-making process. 



2.      The Roll of the Die Method.

This method is the antithesis of the matrices method and is good for allowing our instinct to play a part and not let our head always rule our heart.

Allocate a dice number to your choices and simply roll the dice.  Notice how you feel when your number comes up.  I wouldn’t recommend that you use this method on its own for any major decisions.  But it can be really valuable in supporting other decision-making techniques such as the matrices method above.  Indeed, I have used it when coaching others in career development choices.  Often, I will start with this earlier on in the process to gauge their gut reaction to career options that they may have.



3.      The Rubber Band Method.

This is an alternative take of the usual ‘pros’ and ‘cons’ approach to decision making.

It is particularly useful for those choices where there appears to be equally good outcomes.  Imagine yourself in the middle of a rubber band and ask yourself ‘what is pulling me towards this decision?’ and ‘what is pulling me back?’.  It allows for slightly more positive language when considering options.


4.      De Bono’s 6 Thinking Hats.

The Six Thinking Hats approach was created by Edward de Bono, a Maltese physician, psychologist and philosopher. He used it in his work advising government agencies, but he also wanted it to be a practical tool for everyday problem solving.  The basic principle behind this method is to collect as much information as possible, from as many different perspectives, before making the decision. 

Each coloured hat represents a different type of thinking.  When we are faced with a decision, we metaphorically wear each hat and ask ourselves the appropriate question:

The red hat is your emotional reaction, your gut instinct.  ASK YOURSELF - Do I like this idea?

The yellow hat is the optimistic hat. ASK YOURSELF - What is good about this idea?

The black hat is the critical hat. ASK YOURSELF - What is not good about this idea?

The green hat is the creative hat.  ASK YOURSELF - What other possibilities might be worth considering with regard to this idea?

The blue hat is the process hat.  ASK YOURSELF - What needs to happen to put this idea into action?  What are the steps? How would it work?

The white hat is the data hat.  ASK YOURSELF - What facts and information do I have about this idea?


An example.  Should I start my own business? 


Red hat – my initial reaction, do I like this idea?  Yes, I am excited about this idea.

Yellow hat – what is good about this idea?  I would be my own boss, could set direction for the business, fulfil a life time ambition etc.

Black hat – what is not good about this idea?  It may not succeed. I would be giving up a good job.  It would mean financial sacrifices etc.

Green hat – what other opportunities might exist with this idea?  It would be a lot of hard work, but the flexibility in working hours would allow for shared childcare with my partner.  It would also allow more working from home.  I could look at possibly bringing in a business partner.

Blue hat – what needs to happen next?  I need to get approval for a business loan.  Secure warehouse premises. Speak to my accountant about company structure etc.

White hat – what facts and data do I have about this idea? I know how much finance I need to raise. I have identified the legal requirements. My main competition is… etc.  


The value of the Six Thinking Hats is to generate more data and a more holistic approach to decision-making.  It is particularly good for more complex decisions and decisions that we need to make in consultation with other people.

 

Decision Making Traps.

 

For all our logical thinking, our wonderful subconscious loves to sabotage a good decision-making process!


There are many decision-making traps that we might fall into.  Here are four of my favourites.


Anchoring – this is when we give more weight to the first piece of information, that we receive.  We focus on the comparative value of a choice, rather than how well the choice fulfils our needs.

Think of those ‘A House in the Sun’ programmes.  You will notice that invariably the host will show the buyers a least favourable house at the start, to set the bar a little lower in terms of expectations.  So that choice number two will look better.  In choice number two we are influenced more by its comparison to number one than how it fulfils our needs, because we are ‘anchored’ to that first piece of information.

 

Sunk Cost – this is when previous investments (time or money) influence future decisions.

Consider this scenario:

You are driving to dinner with friends in the country. You have been there once before and know that it takes about one hour.  You don’t use sat nav and your phone has no internet connection.  50 mins into the journey and you aren’t sure where you are.  It was 15 mins ago since you last recognised where you were.  Do you;  (i) keep going on the assumption that  you are bound to recognise something soon or (ii) retrace your steps,  back 15 mins to where you recognise and re direct from there?

The majority of people chose (ii).  This is because we hate to ‘loose out’ on a past decision.

 

Or consider how often you continue to finish a book or a movie that you are clearly not enjoying, so not to have wasted the time already spent on it!

 

Confirming Evidence – we surround ourselves with information that matches a preferred outcome.

You are considering the purchase of a new car.  You are thinking about a Volkswagon Golf.  Suddenly you see them everywhere.    You are recruiting a new member of staff.  You notice that they went to the same school as you.  It was a great school.  You now notice all the great things about this person on their CV. This is due, in part, to what we call the brain’s ‘reticular activating system’ , whose role is to pay attention to some things while ignoring others.  Unconsciously you are ‘selecting in’ the data that matches your bias.

 

Status Quo – the thought of doing something differently puts you off.

Let’s face it, how many of us annually check our utility supplier to see if we can get a better deal?  Not nearly enough given that the research clearly shows that most of us will save money by doing this. This is an interesting decision-making trap as the consequences of it are not always so obvious.  It’s less about making the wrong decision and more about what we might gain by making the right decision.

We fear loss much greater than the joy of gain.

Eg you might decide not to go to the event because you are happy and comfy at home. But the opportunities of shifting yourself from the status quo and off the sofa could be bountiful.


Conclusion

Making decisions is not as easy as it first looks.  It can be a complicated process.  But awareness of our natural decision-making style and watching out for those common ‘traps’ can help.  As the author Jean Gomes remarked:


“awareness is the operating system of better judgement.”

Finally - if you have read this far.  Thank you for making that decision – hope it proved to be a good one!

 

Until next time, thanks for reading.

 

Susan


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