June 2020

The average adult makes around 35,000 decisions a day. Every decision you make carries responsibility as so much of our life is dictated by our decisions. If you have ever thought about making decisions a skill you will quickly find that there is a plethora of theories, hypotheses and history on the subject. At which point you may begin to procrastinate on the idea.

Let me share with you a small yet simple way of rapid fire decision making, one which I use everyday. It's not perfect and it's not ideal for complex situations but it does drastically speed up your day-to-day decisions.

Do you begin every decision by satisficing only to find that by mid-afternoon your brain is aching? The very process of satisficing is drawn from our desire to seek not perfection but to seek average because average is a bias towards safety.

I only have two decisions. Ones you can change later and ones you cannot.

This is the starting point for all rapid fire decisions. Drawn from a hypothesis that when the cost of failure is high, you plan then act, however when the cost of failure is low, you act first then plan.

Cost is not dollars. Often misunderstood as an exchange of currency, cost has an ability to disproportionately amplify our decisions. You need to define your own meaning of cost, in an oxymoronic way this in itself becomes a decision. Cost can represent time, or perceive value or simply mental capacity - whatever your cost matrix has in it, make sure you understand your cost as an element of a decision.

If something does not go to plan is it a failure? Sometimes. Ask a professional athlete about failure and you will get a vastly different conversation than if you asked a surgeon. The thing about failure is you learn, for right or wrong. Much like evaluating what cost represents in a decision you evaluate and understand failure. Often this can be tricky, we humans have an uncanny ability to talk up the good and keep quiet on the bad when given choice or detailed information. The result is typically self-justification from failure to win. Remember the last time you brought a really expensive mattress knowing full well that it was 5x more than you were originally prepared to pay only to justify this to yourself and your friends by saying it is of a quality like never before seen. Sounds familiar.

The ability to make rapid fire decisions often has roots in fear. As a child we are surrounded by opportunities to explore our world. And then our parents tell us off! This leads to an underlying tendency to base decisions on a fear factor. Being risk averse provides a nice warm cuddly blanket, an asymmetric reward mechanism. With individual decision making, we are motivated by fear of missing out. In collective decision making we are motivated by fear of blame. To rationalise decisions is perceived to mitigate against blame or to not miss out. It has been said many times to high ranking technology folk that ‘No one ever got fired for buying [large global tech company name]’. What is at play here is group justification. A group of individuals who have thought by satisficing to arrive at a decision have managed to convince themselves that whilst divergence from the safe zone is probably fine, the risk will not outweigh the reward. Simply put; If you make a decision that ends up a failure but it is based on satisficing principles, you keep your job. If you make a decision by rapid fire thinking and if it goes well, you won't get any more credit than you would using a satisficing method. If it goes pear shaped, you lose your job. Defensive decision making cuts deep into our individual worldview, and depending on that view has the ability to massively skew the appropriateness of the decision.

Unfortunately the undercurrent of thinking, the subconscious level is suggesting to make the best decision while our gut instinct is yelling what is the worst case scenario so we are stuck in a weird kind of stalemate with ourselves - pessimist and optimist. Ever noticed the stalemate group decision making at work or at the knitting club AGM? Bury the decision in the group and then no one person is responsible. To overcome this enigma in a rapid fire decision you ask yourself, can this decision be changed later? If yes follow your gut, if no then follow your subconscious.

In this progressively agile world we need to rekindle our love for thinking decisions, not planning them. The skill of thinking on your feet in the old world of planning can cause friction, make people uncomfortable and even have you labeled a cowboy.

We make around 35,000 decisions a day so why dwell on all of them.