Herbert Simon describes the difference between experienced decision makers and novices in his autobiography Models of My Life.
In so doing, he highlights the value of mental models and collecting a repository of possible actions that can be called upon when needed.
One can train a man so that he has at his disposal a list or repertoire of the possible actions that could be taken under the circumstances…A person who is new at the game does not have immediately at his disposal a set of possible actions to consider, but has to construct them on the spot – a time- consuming and difﬁcult mental task.
The decision maker of experience has at his disposal a checklist of things to watch out for before finally accepting a decision. A large part of the difference between the experienced decision maker and the novice in these situations is not any particular intangible like “judgment” or “intuition.” If one could open the lid, so to speak, and see what was in the head of the experienced decision-maker, one would find that he had at his disposal repertoires of possible actions; that he had checklists of things to think about before he acted; and that he had mechanisms in his mind to evoke these, and bring these to his conscious attention when the situations for decisions arose.
Most of what we do is to get people ready to act in situations of encounter consists of drilling in these lists into them sufficiently deeply so that they will be evoked quickly at the time of the decision.
Simon points out three advantages of the experts: (1) a repository of actions; (2) A checklist of things to think about before acting; and (3) making the process conscious. Let’s briefly explore these.
A repository of actions — It’s a biological instinct to copy others. If you’re below average or a novice at something, copying what others do will quickly get you to average. Most of us copy what we see and most of us work with average people. If you want to be exceptional, not only do you have to copy the best practices, but you have to innovate on top of them. You need not limit yourself to the living. You can build a repository of possible actions from the greats of history too: Rockefeller, Mellon, etc.
A checklist of things to think about — you want to consider all of your decisions through a two-step process. First what are the variables that govern the situation. For this you can use your specific understanding as well as a general knowledge of the world. Second, you want to consider all of the ways in which you can trick yourself.
Making the process conscious — It’s easy to use your intuition and just make a decision. It takes a lot of work to make the process conscious, looking for errors.
The novice spends a lot of time considering a possible course of action whereas the expert spends a lot of time thinking about where the action leaves him.