How to make good decisions

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You are constantly making decisions in your life and your work. How do you ensure you are making the best decisions you can?

The short answer is that you have to practice it. The longer answer is that decision-making is a skill and it is learned like every other skill. There are hundreds (thousands?) of different methods, tools, and processes out there to help. Here are six questions that can help you make better decisions.

Is this a thinking fast or thinking slow decision?

There are two systems for decision making:

System 1 is fast, intuitive, and emotional; System 2 is slower, more deliberative, and more logical.

Both have their traps. Based on the decision you need to make, you need to choose the right system.

This idea is from Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman. Learn more by watching Daniel Kahneman: How We Think from Google Talks.

Am I thinking about this at the right altitude?

When a problem comes in, consider whether you are at the right altitude to solve this? Does the problem or decision need to be restated? Are you thinking about the problem at too high or too low of a level?

How quickly does this decision need to be made?

Sometimes we need to slow down and get more information or consult others. Sometimes we need to speed up and just try things to see how it works.

Who are the right people/what expertise is needed to make this decision?

Have you thought through who else could be involved or who might be consulted? Also could you be better served by delegating the decision to someone who is more informed? Consider creating a “board of investors” for yourself and use that to consult before making big decisions.

How confident am I in the data quality?

All thinking has bias (i.e. cognitive) and all data has bias. Confirmation bias is a tendency to look for data to confirm assumptions that is most favorable to us (including making the decision as quickly as possible). You don’t understand your data well enough if you are not sure how that data is biased.

What feedback/learning loop can I put in place to evaluate this decision?

Post mortem discussions, documenting reasons for decisions in public places, keeping a log of decisions and reflecting, all of these are potential strategies for generating feedback loops. Bring these resources into future decisions to get better.

In summary, this is a LOT to think about. So much so that it’s not possible to think about all these things when making all the decisions you need to make.

Take solace in the fact that most decisions can be changed or reversed. Most of us are not flying planes or operating on people!

The key here is to practice AND get feedback.

Some other tools for making decisions that I like:

Major parts of the above list came from Scott Berkun and my fellow colleagues as part of the learning resources at Automattic. 👏🏼

Comments welcome!

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