In his autobiography, legendary scientist Herber Simon attempts to explain the difference between experienced decision-makers and novices.
What is it that the expert has that the novice lacks? Simon argues the answer is not judgment or intuition but rather a repository of possible actions to take in a given circumstance.
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 three.
A repository of actions — If you’re just starting out, copying others will quickly get you average results. You need not limit yourself to copying the living. You can build a repository of possible actions from the greats of history as well: Rockefeller, Mellon, Carnegie, etc.
A checklist of things to think about — 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 and general knowledge of the world. Second, consider how you trick yourself.
Making the process conscious — It’s easy to use your intuition. It takes a lot of work and effort to use a repeatable process for decisions that you can use to look for mistakes.
In the end, the novice spends a lot of time considering a possible course of action, whereas the expert spends much of their time thinking about where a particular action leaves him. The novice spends time searching for what they could do? The expert, already filled with a repository of possible actions, asks what happens if they take a particular action.