How to Improve your Decision Making Process

The Vlerick business school did a nice event for expats some weeks ago about the process of decision making. Prof Kerstin Fehre made us realize the amount of decisions we take every day.

To improve the process of taking a decision, she said we should not evaluate our decision based on the outcome: A decision is taken based on the information available at the time of the decision, not at the time of the outcome. So what can we do to take better decisions?

The quality of our decision needs to be evaluated in the moment of decision making.

We can only evaluate the process of decision making.

She mentions 3 stages involved in the process:

  1. In the first stage, we can see the issue as a threat or as an opportunity
  2. Our own interpretation of the issue is influenced by all our past experiences, our beliefs, culture, emotions and human bias, …
  3. Based on the recognized aspects of the issue, we take our decision

Let’s explicit some of the human bias: those are bias common to all of us, and if we are not aware of them, they may influence wrongly our decision:

  • Confidence bias: we all think we are over the average drivers… so if nobody is under the average, the average is not really a mathematical one ?
  • Confirmation bias: we tend to see only the facts that confirm our initial belief. It’s typical when you are pregnant that you see pregnant women and baby’s all around!
  • Authority bias: when something is said by an ‘authority’ figure, we tend to believe it and comply. There were some experiments done on this bias, where a person with a white apron (impersonating a doctor) asks the participants to give an electroshock to a simulated patient. Not many participants stopped on electrocuting the ‘patient’ even though they where concerned about his/her health, but as the doctor said to continue doing it, they believed them.
  • Gender bias: we tend to identify some capacities and professions to a gender.

What can we do to improve this process? Kerstin shows us these 7 techniques:

  1. First, be sure to identify the true decision you have to make. Use the method for root-cause analysis questioning “Why?”, “why?”, “why?”  to be sure to get to the root of the problem at hand.
  2. Ask for advice, so that you get rid of your personal bias and get as many viewpoints as possible. Talk to others looking k for new ideas, get the arguments instead of their opinion, question yourself why you are asking this person in particular: are you looking for approval? Don’t forget to  look for challenging persons.
  3. Envision the result of your decision: what would be the consequences at short/medium/long term?
  4. If you have many options, quantify each of them to be able to compare them.
  5. Sleep on it: our mind is very active correlating information during our sleep, it allows to see relationships or implications we didn’t realize on the spot.
  6. Some people have trouble taking a decision, so put yourself a deadline!
  7. Decide and write down your reasoning process.  In this way, if you took the wrong decision you can analyse what step you have to add for next time ?
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