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We make decisions every day. Many of these decisions are small, within our 'wheelhouse' of knowledge and expertise and possibly of minor consequence. Occasionally, we are faced with decisions that might be out the ordinary and have some combination of complexity, medium to high consequence, and with uncertainties. How do you develop confidence that you are making a good decision – especially in this latter case?
In the recent thread on Cognitive Biases, Professor Bill Bulleit made reference to work by Kahneman and Tversky showing that humans have two modes of thinking: a System 1 where we think fast and predominantly rely on instinct and emotion and a System 2 where we think slowly and predominantly rely on deliberation and logic. Not surprisingly, System 1, also called the lazy part of our brain, dominates most of our decision making. This can be trap. Professor Bulleit provided a link to paper he authored showing the implications of this work to structural engineering but with insight and conclusions that are far more general in nature. Have you found yourself in the System 1 trap?
One way to mitigate the System 1 trap is to apply a structured approach to decision making. An approach is Decision Quality. There are a lot of great references on the web, but I particularly like the approach used by SDG. This approach breaks the decision into discrete attributes, thus allowing the attributes to be assessed and quantified prior to implementing. While one cannot control the outcome (e.g., uncertainties may prevail), one can control the quality of the decision. Decision Quality typically has six attributes including:
Appropriate Problem Frame
Meaningful, Reliable Information
Clear Values and Tradeoffs
Logically Correct Reasoning
Commitment to Action
What other approaches have you seen or used to avoid the System 1 trap?
Thanks Mitch for the "Head Scratcher!" challenge!
First, I suggest we lose the word "Good."
Next, as I understand the application for this decision is in a somewhat uncommon, less anticipated situation, it suggests going forward with "Baby Steps" and lose any "Just do it!" mentality.
Seems like a valid approach to begin to better understand what this known-unknown is about would suggest use of the Deming Plan->Do->Study-> Act approach with the initial pilot [ attached].
As the study group's level of understanding increases, the boundaries for the PDSA application increase.
p.s. The decision group's usual people-challenge when working incrementally are the "I get it now, let's just do it!"
Steven, Thanks for responding and sharing your experience. Your professor's response suggests to me he had a good understanding of the decision at hand and strong sense of self-awareness. I wonder if he was referring to the decision itself or the outcome? On this point, something that was drummed into my head was the distinction between a decision and an outcome.
You can control a decision but outcomes, especially when uncertainties are involved, cannot always be controlled. The best situation is good decision and good outcome. Unfortunately, uncertainties sometimes prevail and you don't get the desired outcome even when you take a good decision. For completeness the other possibilities are bad decision and good outcome and bad decision and bad outcome.
It would have been interesting to ask him more about his basis for the 50% value. I think this is where the elements of decision quality are valuable because they provide a structured basis for examining the decision input. If it was one or more uncertainties that were driving the 50% value you could have explored if these uncertainties were reducible or to understand the implications on the outcome and if it was something that could be tolerated. This also sets up the question about the value of additional information. But I will stop here.
------------------------------Dr. Dilip Barua, Ph.D, P.Eng, M. ASCEVancouver, BC, Canadahttps://widecanvas.weebly.com------------------------------
Thanks for reading and your thoughtful response. It is hard to believe that 5 months have elapsed since originally posting. Here are my thoughts. I see failure as an acceptable decision outcome, as long as it does not come as a surprise and is societally acceptable. For example the book Liftoff by Eric Berger describes how SpaceX used failure as an enabler to derisk their first rocket. Here, the consequence of failure was principally financial. Loss of life was not an issue and the public was not impacted. Failure was a tradeoff they were willing to make to try and reduce schedule time. Each time they tried and failed could be generally classified as good decision – bad outcome. However, all decisions, including bad ones, must as table stakes protect the health, safety and welfare of the public. Ideally, we want to make the good decisions. This is the art of engineering in my opinion.