That’s rational or cognitive thinking. Bad decisions come from failings of the human brain or cognitive biases. The bad news is that you will repeat the same mistakes. The good news is that you can find a pattern in your errors to recognise and deal with your primary biases. Here’s how you can improve your thinking and take better decisions for success.
- Short cuts for your lazy brain
Most recurring biases come from the biggest strength of your brain, which is also its defining limitation. Your brain can cut through the clutter of information in the modern world and focus on one or two pieces that you require to cross the road, finish a project, speak to someone etc. The brain wants to avoid effort and exhaustion from taking too many decisions. Thus it loves shortcuts. At work, it is simply easier to listen to your manager than to question the instruction. It is easier to apply to the same companies on campus, as your classmates, than to make an independent choice.
Robert Cialdini calls these the principles of Authority and Social Proof in his six principles of persuasion. Instead, ask yourself if you would have made the same decisions without the external influence. On the other hand because of the Paradox of Choice, you will freeze and not take a decision in time if you have multiple projects or jobs to choose from. Hence marketers offer you just two or three choices where possible, to get you to buy faster. Use this limitation of your brain to reduce multiple choices amongst projects or job offers to just two based on say location or salary. Then choose either one to go for a good decision that works out, over a great decision that is too late.
Over 80% of the people in any group will believe themselves to be better than average at work, more intelligent than average or better looking than average. Average being 50%, many people would be wrong. The brain tends to have misplaced faith in its ability to make a better decision about hiring someone or choosing a supplier and tends to discount the impact of chance on intended outcome. These biases are Overestimation and Illusion of Control. Thus the new hire or partnership will often fail. If you recognise a pattern of failure in your independent decisions, seek external inputs, perspectives and views that differ from your own before you decide.
- Force fit and comparisons
Confirmation bias is an easy shortcut to use to avoid thinking. If you have designed a new product and there is mixed feedback from customers, you will choose to consider the data that is positive and fits with your design thinking and ignore the rest as exceptions. Thus, you will take a wrong decision while choosing a job offer with a company you like or holding on to a wrong share in the stock market.
Similarly, Availability bias anchors us to the first or most available information. We then forcibly compare every new information in relation to the current one. Thus you will choose a project or a new job or a team member that looks better than your current one even though your choice is terrible compared to the what could be available. A variation of this is the principle of Scarcity when marketers or your team leader creates and anchors you to an artificial shortage or deadline for a quicker decision that may not be good for you. Seek more data and pay special attention to new and negative data.
Cialdini’s principle of Liking states that we are easily persuaded by people we like or say attractive people we want to be liked by. Also, we tend to like people similar to us. So, are you ignoring negative data in a project and instead, accepting the views of an attractive sales person or team member, who also compliments you often or mirrors your expressions or language to be similar to you? An extension of the principle of Liking is the Halo effect where we let the positive or negative impact of a single quality or event spill over to or overshadow other stuff. Question if you are ignoring facts and logic to go with someone else’s recommendation because they have been successful in an unrelated space.
The advertising industry is built on the fact that your mind tends to take emotional decisions. Thus as an investor or manager, you will be swayed by a compelling anecdotal story of how happy one client is. The sequence in the story matters. So the first person to complain about a team argument to a manager will be believed more. If you are having a bad day at home, your behaviour will be different in professional tasks and interactions, as opposed to those on a good day. To avoid poor decisions, delay them and give yourself time to evaluate facts and sleep over your thoughts till your emotions are calmer.
1. Don’t tell them what to do
You believe that you have worked through your biases and come to a good decision. If this requires your team members to take certain actions, you have an opportunity to improve your decision and remove biases that you could not identify on your own. Don’t announce your decision to your team. Invite them to help you decide.
2. Share what you are thinking
Start with the problem you want to solve. Ask if you have defined it correctly. Share the outcome you seek and hence what are the decision criteria that seem important. Ask if it makes sense. Then share the data and inputs you could find. Are you missing anything? Finally, what does this mean for the decision?
3. Help others participate
Avoid Yes/No questions. Do you think this option will work is a bad question. How would you rank these options or how do you rate these choices on a scale of 10 are questions to seek participation. What data supports your opinion? What could be the reason for the data that doesn’t fi t helps them think better.
4. Seek wisdom
Seek recommendations to get the wisdom of crowds for a great decision. Everyone gets ownership and buy-in for the process leading to greater enthusiasm. Start with the junior person fi rst to remove the pressure of contradicting their managers. The different thoughts and approaches to a problem helps you reduce individual biases for a better solution.
5. Confirm commitment
This part is not about thinking straight but about getting the task done. Once you have arrived at a final decision, ask if everyone is committed to their roles in executing it. Since they were involved in the decision and their confl icting views were heard, they are likely to follow through till the outcome.
(The writer is a career coach, mentor and the author of yoursortinghat.com)