A Different Point of View on Decision Making

Ann Marie Bland of Boston, a video game marketing executive, was recently faced with two attractive job offers.  Both companies were start-ups in which she felt she could rapidly grow her career as part of a successful management team.  Ann Marie made a list of pros and cons and did her due diligence on the two companies, examining their goals and direction, funding, and culture.  She also relied on her instinct.

Instinct is at the center of the decision-making process advocated by Jonah Lehrer, the author of the bestselling book “How We Decide.” Jonah, who was inspired to write about this topic after “pathological indecisiveness in the cereal aisle at the supermarket,” claims that the brain’s prefrontal cortex is limited in its ability to make complex decisions.

“In the face of an overwhelming number of variables, we have to trust our hunches,” Jonah says.  “Although we can’t explain them, they often reflect the most critical information.”

The Hidden Variable – Your Gut

When making an important decision, Jonah argues that uber-rationality doesn’t always work because pros and cons aren’t created equal, and by simply looking at a list, you may not be seeing the whole picture. Watch Jonah talking more about decision making on the CBS Early Show:

Are people who are less in touch with their gut feelings destined to experience what Jonah dubs “paralysis by analysis?” Fortunately, this is a skill that can be honed. Jonah suggests eavesdropping on subtle feelings, clicking off the reasoning process, and listening to the quiet emotions that arise when you think about the decision.

“Also recognize that the brain doesn’t like change, so it’s normal to be scared,” he says.  “Emotions associated with fear don’t necessarily signal that you’re making a wrong choice.”

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  • Metacognition is an important step in the thinking process and one should not underestimate the value of thinking about one's thinking. “Deliberate Calm” that is practiced by airline pilots is a step beyond simply thinking about one's own thinking.

    There is that idea that repetition is the mother of learning and so flight simulation for me fits into the same scope that Micheal Schrage once explored with “Serious Play”.

    Serious Play

    So I here I see a pilot involved in “serious play” and what Schrage had done in his book is extend the value of simulation into customer interactions and market place interactivity.

    If we use the experience of pilots as our own “simulation” to think about metacognition, then as I see it (and practice it) metacognition is a part of this “Serious Play” idea, that Michael Schrage wrote about a decade ago.

    As long as there isn't a dominant ideology or professional field which leads us to over-think or get into a thinking rut, for me diversity is a personal challenge, one that involves a continuous “serious play” across boundaries and disciplines.

    Today when we talk about the brain we can become very neuroscience centric, and while it is good to find out how our brain works, metacognition is not an end but a start.

    I am advocate of knowing our own emotions because without that reason is an artless and linear canvas fit for equations and logic. Like Mathematics, when things get artless the discipline of thinking loses it's essence.

    I am also an advocate of knowing our reason because without that we are an emotional storm that Bob Dylan once sang “is blowing in the wind”. The answer my friend is in our mind, it has always been in our mind.

    If Schrage had extended simulation and prototyping beyond his innovation focus, it would encompass conversations such as Jonah Lehrer. This is then is “Serious Play” and even what I write here is merely a simulation that equates with metacognition.


  • Alexandra_levit

    Emeri, thanks for the additional context! I studied Cognitive Psychology in college, and metacognition was one of the most interesting concepts.

  • A great book on decision making and the potential for too many choices to overwhelm, is the Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz. Schwartz studies the psychology of decision making. This book looks at both the evolutionary reasons for how our brain works thinks about decisions, and also provides useful suggestions for how we can change our decision making process so that we are more satisfied with the outcomes.

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