We are hard-wired to take decision-making shortcuts
In Part I of this article, I outlined scientific evidence establishing how information overload undermines our ability to make important decisions. The easiest, most effective strategy for dealing with this ever-present challenge is to periodically rank those decisions most critical to our success in work and life.
In his “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” Stephen Covey asserts that most of us reactively focus on what seems to be important in the moment but neglect spending time and energy on long-term critical goals. He made this observation well before the digital age–and it resonates more than ever now.
Unconscious biases often lead to bad decisions
We are hard-wired to take decision-making shortcuts. Industrial psychologists describe ‘unconscious anchors’ as the key elements of this dynamic. Only by gaining awareness of these unconscious biases can we hope to discern when our ‘instincts’ are leading us astray.
• Rushing to closure
Over time, deadlines and other constraints increase when we slip into reactivity. Without a proactive sense of strategy, of mission and purpose, it’s easy to lose direction.
• Failure to solicit feedback
It’s easiest to make decisions based on whatever information is quickly available. But when facing an important decision, doing a simple Google search and getting feedback from only a few coworkers isn’t enough. Be sure to do a finely tuned browser search, looking critically at the credibility of your sources. Also, obtain feedback from ALL stakeholders who will be affected by an impending decision. The latter will get you the buy-in you need even if things don’t turn as planned.
MORE about how to solicit objective feedback in Part III of this article.
• Accepting ‘Facts’ uncritically
In a negotiation, the first person to throw out a dollar figure has created an ‘anchor’ that gives them a distinct advantage in the outcome. Be aware that some of your sources may be using this tactic against your company’s better interests to ‘sell’ you on misrepresentative ‘facts’ to prod you into decisions skewed to their advantage.
Strong confidence, even overconfidence, is standard for leaders. If this describes you, how do you avoid over promising and letting down your team or company? For starters, slow down the decision-making process to gain more information to better ground your decisions. That said, there are times when even the most proactive, inclusive leader will encounter emergencies in which decisions have to be made on the fly.
• Confirmation bias
Even scientists are subject to confirmation bias, i.e., structuring research in such a way that facts supporting a desired outcome are oversampled/overrepresented. To avoid this, be sure to look carefully at disconfirming evidence. It’s always advisable to be constructively skeptical when arriving at any important decision. So, by all means, take the time and energy to formulate a ‘devil’s advocate’ argument against your initial decision.