Decision Making

Confidence in knowledge

Being comfortable with instant and “not being sure” is an important part of decision making. We can become better decision makers if we thought less about whether we are confident in our beliefs, but how confident we are in our beliefs1. We can train ourselves to do this by expressing our confidence alongside a statement. For example,

I am 70% sure that John Steinbeck wrote The Grapes of Wrath.

alternatively

John Steinbeck wrote the Grapes of Wrath, I’m a 7 about my confidence.

Alternatively, you can express the fact as a range of values or outcomes.

What to do when you can’t decide

Paralysis in decision making, may be a subconcious way of your brain feeling there is an essential piece of the decision to be uncovered. In this case you might try a deep focus activity to try and uncover this.

At some point, you do need to just make a decision, the costs of indecision will out weigh any benefits from making the exactly correct decision. The weight of the decision can impair performance across other areas3.

Jeff Bezos has quote, that has turned into the “70% Rule” 4:

Most decisions should probably be made with somewhere around 70% of the information you wish you had. If you wait for 90%, in most cases, you’re probably being slow. Plus, either way, you need to be good at quickly recognizing and correcting bad decisions. If you’re good at course correcting, being wrong may be less costly than you think, whereas being slow is going to be expensive for sure.

In short, the 70% rule says that you should make a decision when you are about 70% sure rather than delaying until you have more certainty. Delaying for certainity can lead to procrastination5.

Warning signs that should cause a pause in decision making

When making decisions there are warning signs in phrasing that should give us pause when making a decision1:

  • Signs of certainity or speaking in absolutes
  • Irrational outcome attribution, for example attributiing an outcome to all luck or all skill depending on the actor. See also self-serving bias.
  • Generalizations of people, especially when it comes to evaluate an idea
  • Signs that we are blowing a moment out of proportion: “worst day ever”
  • Signs of appealing to the crowd: “everyone agrees with me”
  • Lack of self compassion: “I have the worst judgment”
  • “Wrong” -> wrong is a conclusion not a rationale
  • Informing the listener of the outcome to shade their perspective

Scenario Planning

  • Consider a broad range of possibilities for potential outcomes and attempt to assign probabilities to their likelihood. At minimum this exercise can help move you from thinking only in binary outcomes of “good” and “bad” 1. However, it also cements in us that the outcome is uncertain, better prepares us for a range of outcomes, and allows us to make ulysses contracts when we anticipate our own irrationality. Scenario planning can be taken many levels deep, with branching sets of outcomes.

Antipatterns


References

1.
2.
Everingham, J. 1/ “Leadership is a repeatable skill, not an art.” Over 25 years ago, I attended a leadership session at Netscape, run by Jim Barksdale. It was a single hour that profoundly impacted my career. Twitter Tweet at https://twitter.com/jevering/status/1611793067945922560 (2023).
3.
Michael Lopp. Ok. So, You Can’t Decide. at https://randsinrepose.com/archives/ok-so-you-cant-decide/ (2021).
4.
Bezos, J. 2016 Letter to Shareholders. Us about amazon at https://www.aboutamazon.com/news/company-news/2016-letter-to-shareholders (2017).
5.
Pearson, T. How to Stop Procrastinating Using the 70\% Rule (Updated 2023!). Taylor pearson at https://taylorpearson.me/how-to-stop-procrastinating/ (2018).