How to Overcome Analytical Bias to Become a Stronger Decision Maker
Often we let personal biases and other intuitive mental forces push us towards quick decisions. In contrast, good decision makers make the effort to really analyze issues. Instead learn how to become a critical thinker by separating facts from assumptions to make consistent, high-quality decisions.
How would you rate your own decision-making success? Are you a generally good decision maker? Why isn't everyone a great decision maker? What is holding us back? The answer is usually analytical bias and poor decision-making habits. Without discipline and training, we tend to be lazy decision makers- even when it comes to important decisions. The natural tendency in decision making is:
- To consider only those alternatives that are obvious
- To analyze only the areas of uncertainty with which we are familiar
- And then to compare the options through a haze of bias and assumptions
Such decisions are made quickly following poor practices, and as a result are typically of poor quality. A good decision is made when the decision maker is fully informed about the implications of their choice. The best decision is the choice that offers the greatest chance of the most desirable outcome. Knowing what is best requires that all possible alternatives be identified and then evaluated objectively.
Well-informed, balanced analysis leads to the kind of decision you would want a brain surgeon to make on your behalf. High-quality decisions therefore require that you know as much as possible about the pros and cons of how different choices might turn out. A good decision is one in which you make while understanding any risks you are taking.
The bad news is that most people are not very good at objective problem analysis. In the end, problem solving is performed by trial and error. Even highly educated people typically muddle through problem analysis in a haphazard way. Most people are content with an occasional success and assume that no one else could do any better. Becoming a better decision maker begins with an understanding of the forces that are working to undermine the quality of one's decision making. This paper is a discussion of the effect of bias on the way we perceive problems and on the reasoning that leads to our decisions.
Bias is a viewpoint that prevents people from being objective. Bias is created by experience, education, and genetics. It is the expression of how one thinks and reasons about particular subjects. Bias, in its various forms, discourages us from being thorough in our problem analyses. It exaggerates our understanding of the factors that relate to a decision and encourages quick, poorly informed decisions.
There are several mental forces (influences) that contribute to our bias or viewpoint. These forces are always at play in the back of our minds, undermining the quality of our reasoning. They are the barriers to consistently brilliant decisions, which we all encounter.
Instinct and Intuition
With natural or intuitive problem solving and decision making, people are content to make quick decisions based on their biases and beliefs, rather than based on facts. Decisions are made quickly rather than thoroughly. People use their "guts" rather than their brains to arrive at conclusions.
Even important decisions are typically given as little thought as possible. Methodical problem analysis is extremely rare. It's as if additional time and energy spent on understanding a problem could not change the quality of the decision. Intuitive decision making follows familiar patterns. The more familiar a situation seems the less analysis is applied. For example, in many homes the same remedy, such as chicken soup to cure a cold, is used to treat an illness year after year, even when it does not work.
Typically there is no systematic analysis of the options, alternatives, or implications of a particular decision. We jump to conclusions. If any problem analysis is performed it is used to find evidence that supports a familiar or convenient solution. Analysis tends to be self-satisfying, not self-critical. In order to develop into effective decision makers, it is necessary to overcome the tendency to choose a convenient solution. We must not let instinct or intuition control our problem analysis.
Barriers to Brilliant Decisions
Broadly speaking, there are four categories of mental influences that affect decision making:
- mental short cuts
These forces are the barriers to objective problem analysis. Collectively, they undermine one's willingness to be thorough and therefore their ability (or inability) to be objective. Understanding the combined effect of these forces is an important first step toward becoming a better decision maker.