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A Highly Accessible Description of Helpful Decision Practices for Different Circumstances
on 22 April 2009
Don't just Blink! Instead, read a series of well-chosen, beautifully told stories of successful and unsuccessful decision practices, along with some rules of thumb for when to rely on emotions, or rigorous logic, or hold a long-term running debate in your head, or how to best mix emotions and logic when appropriate.
Since I was young, any discussion about how to make better decisions quickly turned into a debate between those who liked to follow the rules of logic and those who liked to wait until they get a good feeling about a choice. The reason that debate continued is that both sides are right, and wrong, part of the time. The good decision maker will know when to access which method . . . or to combine them . . . for the best results.
I found How We Decide to be the best introductory book I've read for helping anyone to improve decision practices, depending on the circumstances. For example:
1. When we have little time to decide, need to act, and are quite experienced, relying on our feelings will guide us to a typically high quality answer that our subconscious mind has already figured out. Try to logic that situation out, and we lose the benefit of the feeling and don't around to applying the logic properly.
2. When there are lots of variables and we have lots of time, but the decision isn't important, we can waste tremendous amounts of time comparing things until we eventually make a worse decision than if we went with our feeling-led intuition earlier on. We are particularly at risk in situations where our minds can be misled (we immediately like expensive items better than less expensive ones . . . even when they are objectively inferior, have a hard time resisting a bargain, and don't feel enough pain when we can pay with plastic).
3. When there's lots of uncertainty . . . even with keen logic applied, it's good to draw on both logic and those feelings. The combination will narrow down the choices into a more informed, higher quality choice.
4. Avoid situations where your brain will keep trying to find a pattern, making you feel good, even as your pocket is picked (such as when you play slot machines).
5. When there are only four variables to compare and it's an important decision, do all the analysis you want . . . if you have enough time.
6. Compare things first without knowing their prices (such as by tasting wine without knowing the brand). You'll make better choices and save a lot of money.
7. Get more people involved where incomplete perceptions and bias can lead to bad decisions (such as the former practice of letting airline pilots have too much authority in the cockpit during an emergency).
Jonah Lehrer also describes the latest research that explains why those conclusions are true. If you read a lot in the field, the research won't be new. If you don't read much on the subject, you'll find these studies to be interesting confirmation of the stories and suggested decision rules.
From what the author says in the acknowledgments, the editor did an excellent job on this book. Congratulations for suggesting many of these great stories!