Dionne England & Sarb Parhar
What’s common between human decisions and an iceberg?
Both are enigmatic. Like an iceberg, most of the the human decisions are hidden below the conscious (water) level. The decisions are made hidden away from conscious awareness and we are left to rationalize them only after the fact.
In this article, we will dicuss the nature and importance of decision making process.
What is your decision-making methodology? Do you know, how do you make decisions? Do you list out the pro’s and con’s and go with whichever list is longer? Do you canvass the input from trusted family and friends? Do you procrastinate long enough that the decision is made for you? Do you let few things fall in favor of others? If yes, which one are treated as not important? We all have strategies we tend to rely on to figure out what we should do.
If you’re like most of us, we pay attention to the big decisions we need to make in our life, for example, for my post-secondary education do I want to go to a school in town or out of town? At work we deliberate over new hires and usually have a custom scoring process to ensure we are assessing each candidate fairly and making an objective hiring decision. When we seek funding within our organization for our projects, there are standard internal equations that allow the organization to objectively compare very different initiatives and select the best projects to invest in financially.
These are large, structured decisions that we make as a professional. We tend to allocate time to deliberate. We schedule meetings to gather team members to brainstorm on strategies and options.
These decisions are big because once the decision is made its cumbersome to change our mind. Once you make a job offer, there is a probationary period however leaders want a new hire onboard, trained and hitting the ground running. If we make a poor hiring decision and have to terminate the candidate early it probably means starting the hiring process again which involves more time, cost and lost opportunity with other candidates. Similarly, once a project gets the approval for funding, changing our mind is disruptive. In addition to putting the brakes on the work that has inevitably started and dismantling the team, it’s important to remember that when your project got approved, someone else project they were passionate about was declined due to limited financial resources. Hopefully these funds can still be used by another group, but at minimum, you’ve wasted valuable time.
This is why for these big decisions, we take the time to try to get these decisions right the first time and to avoid regret and the wasted time, energy and financial cost of having to back out of these decisions.
These big decisions are conscious decisions, which arise occasionally but they are not daily or weekly occurrences.
Did you know that we make on average 1 decision every 2 seconds, 35,000 decisions a day, over 1 million decisions in a month, 1 trillion decisions in a lifetime? These represent sub conscious decisions that we make every minute of every day. These decisions cover everything from what to eat for breakfast to whether to take the highway or the street to how to what to write in an email or speak to a client. We spend less time on these micro decisions because they feel trivial and less impactful. But in reality, majority of these decisions have a compounding effect, as we make the same decisions repeatedly hourly, daily, weekly and monthly. Over time these seemingly small decisions are making a big impact on our outcomes. In summary, everything we see, do and experience is a manifestation of decisions, whether ours’ or others’.
Once you analyze your thoughts, decisions, and actions, you will realize that we make decisions on margin or in other words, we play “Whack a mole” game. In essence, we trade one problem with another one, while making decisions instead of understanding the present problem and solving it.
Figure 2 — “Whack a mole” as our decision-making process
More importantly, we don’t know why we do what we do in most instances. We think we are in control and have free will, but most of our decisions are below our conscious level, invisible like an iceberg.
With that said, the generalized human decision-making process is completely elusive so far. At present, there is no holistic human decision-making framework that explains how we make decisions.
That’s not what I wanted? Decisions gone awry…
According to WHO1, close to a million people worldwide end their life with suicide and another two million people are killed by another human being, every year. This begs the following two questions.
1. Why we choose to hurt ourselves?
2. Why we choose to hurt others, especially the people close to us?
No one wakes up in the morning to hurt themselves or others but we all do it at one time or another. The culprit, in this case, is faulty human decision-making. We, as humans are slaves to our thoughts. Even though, most of the time, our actions are appropriate and honorable, however, many a times our thoughts lead us astray to faulty/bad decisions.
During the day to day activities at a smaller scale, we experience pain when our outcomes don’t match our expectations. It can be baffling when we deliberate exhaustively around a big decision and yet we still don’t get the intended outcome. Even with careful deliberation there could be factors we never considered or new information that enters into the equation after we make the decision. Consider how difficult it would be to arrive at outcomes that match our expectations when we unconsciously make decisions. If we are not even thinking through the holistic decision process from end to end, landing on our desired outcome would be a game of chance. Do any of these scenarios sound likely to you?
So, the challenge becomes, when to listen to your thoughts and when to disregard them?
This is where our proposed solution comes in. We have unraveled this enigmatic human decision-making process and developed a proprietary human decision-making framework and related algorithms, wherever applicable, based on the multi-disciplinary knowledge — Neuroscience, Behavioural science, human psychology, philosophy, mathematics and business principles. This decision-making framework can help in differentiating the decisions between good, bad and ugly decisions. According to the process, any decision can be traced back to 27 “mutually exclusive collective exhaustive” contributors. This knowledge leads to couple of realizations. First the free will is an illusion even for conscious decision, as most of the decision is pre-baked even before the problem is known. Secondly even though we know intuitively that the human decision-making process is quick and seamless, but the process highlights energy efficiency, risk minimizing and marvelous attributes of the process.
To summarize we make fewer than 10 conscious decisions, but over a million sub conscious decisions in a month. Presently, the decision-making process is not only enigmatic but also leads us astray many a times. In the subsequent articles, we are going to unravel the holistic Decision-Making Framework, which can be used in converting the subconscious decisions to conscious choices and can also help us in hacking the process to get desired outcomes.