Tag: Psychology

The Ikea Effect: Why Doing Things Ourselves Makes us Happier

The IKEA effect is a super-interesting part of our psychological wiring that has all sorts of implications.

In short, basically, people who voluntarily undergo a great deal of pain, discomfort, or effort to get something will be happier than if it came to them easily.

IKEA uses this to their advantage. So did Betty Crocker, who always required that you at least add one ingredient to her cake mixes. And, interestingly, perhaps this is why we consume so many calories. What if we get less pleasure from food that’s prepared for us, so we eat more of it. When we cook at home, we get more pleasure and not only do we eat healthier but we get more pleasure.

Not only does “assemble yourself” furniture save IKEA money and increase efficiency, but you value that Billy Bookcase even more because you had to put it together.

The IKEA effect is simple: when you work for something you fall in love with it.

Dan Ariel says:

When marketers do sell you a product, their theory is about preference fit. You like pink and I like orange and I like this a little higher and everyone knows their preference. That’s important. But I think the more important issue is not the preference fit but the investment in the product. Say you like orange and pink. Imagine that in one universe you found shoes that are orange and pink and in other you had to invest five minutes of effort and attention and care to choose the exact shades. What we show is that when you’ve invested into it, you would appreciate them more and you would think about them more. You might talk about them more, you might be more likely to buy them again from the same vendor, your connection would be much higher. It takes very little investment to make something your own. … It’s sometimes surprising how little that is.

***

Still Curious? Dan Ariely is the best-selling author of The Upside of Irrationality: The Unexpected Benefits of Defying Logic at Work and at Home and Predictably Irrational, Revised and Expanded Edition: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions.

Behavioral Economics Reading List

Are you looking for good books to read on Behavioral Economics or Behavioral Psychology? This is a list of my best Behavioral Economics books of all time. If you only want to read a few, check out the first three which will give you a firm introduction to everything you need to know.

Judgement in Managerial Decision Making (awesome)
When faced with a decision, we all believe we’re weighing the facts objectively and making rational, thoughtful decisions. In fact, science tells us that in situations requiring careful judgment, every individual is influenced by his or her own biases to some extent. Drawing on the very latest behavioral decision research this book examines judgment in a variety of managerial contexts and provides important insights that can help you make better managerial decisions.

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion
Should be required Reading.

Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness*
“This book is terrific. It will change the way you think, not only about the world around you and some of its bigger problems, but also about yourself.” -Michael Lewis

Why Smart People Make Big Money Mistakes
Gary Belsky and Thomas Gilovich reveal the psychological forces — the patterns of thinking and decision making — behind seemingly irrational behavior. They explain why so many otherwise savvy people make foolish financial choices: why investors are too quick to sell winning stocks and too slow to sell losing shares, why home sellers leave money on the table and home buyers don’t get the biggest bang for their buck, why borrowers pay too much credit card interest and savers can’t sock away as much as they’d like, and why so many of us can’t control our spending.

Breakdown of Will
Ainslie argues that our responses to the threat of our own inconsistency determine the basic fabric of human culture. He suggests that individuals are more like populations of bargaining agents than like the hierarchical command structures envisaged by cognitive psychologists.

Think Twice: Harnessing the Power of Counterintuition
In Think Twice, Michael Mauboussin shows you how to recognize-and avoid-common mental missteps, including: Misunderstanding cause-and-effect linkages; Aggregating micro-level behavior to predict macro-level behavior; Not considering enough alternative possibilities in making a decision; Relying too much on experts

Identity Economics: How Our Identities Shape Our Work, Wages, and Well-Being
Monetary incentives are counter-productive in team environments that succeed in creating a culture of identity that fosters teamwork, where mission understanding and commitment are core to performance.

Animal Spirits: How Human Psychology Drives the Economy, and Why it Matters for Global Capitalism*
Akerlof and Shiller reassert the necessity of an active government role in economic policymaking by recovering the idea of animal spirits, a term John Maynard Keynes used to describe the gloom and despondence that led to the Great Depression and the changing psychology that accompanied recovery. Like Keynes, Akerlof and Shiller know that managing these animal spirits requires the steady hand of government–simply allowing markets to work won’t do it.

Predictably Irrational: the Hidden Forces that Shape our Decisions*
Ariely explains how expectations, emotions, social norms, and other invisible, seemingly illogical forces skew our reasoning abilities. Not only do we make astonishingly simple mistakes every day, but we make the same types of mistakes. We consistently overpay, underestimate, and procrastinate. We fail to understand the profound effects of our emotions on what we want, and we overvalue what we already own.

Rational Decisions
A concise, accessible, and expert view on Bayesian decision making.

The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behaviour
What makes people act irrationally? This book explores the submerged mental drives that undermine rational action, from the desire to avoid loss to a failure to consider all the evidence or to perceive a person or situation beyond the initial impression and the reluctance to alter a plan that isn’t working.

Advances in Behavioral Economics
Advances in Behavioral Economics will serve as the definitive one-volume resource for those who want to familiarize themselves with the new field or keep up-to-date with the latest developments.

Behavioral GameTheory: Experiments in Strategic Interaction
Colin Camerer, one of the field’s leading figures, uses psychological principles and hundreds of experiments to develop mathematical theories of reciprocity, limited strategizing, and learning, which help predict what real people and companies do in strategic situations. Unifying a wealth of information from ongoing studies in strategic behavior, he takes the experimental science of behavioral economics a major step forward.

Behavioral Economics and its Applications
In this volume, some of the world’s leading thinkers in behavioral economics and general economic theory make the case for a much greater use of behavioral ideas in six fields where these ideas have already proved useful but have not yet been fully incorporated–public economics, development, law and economics, health, wage determination, and organizational economics.

Explaining Social Behavior: More Nuts and Bolts for the Social Sciences
Jon Elster offers an overview of key explanatory mechanisms in the social sciences, relying on hundreds of examples and drawing on a large variety of sources-psychology, behavioral economics, biology, political science, historical writings, philosophy and fiction.

Ulysses and the Sirens: Studies in Rationality and Irrationality
Elster critiques the notion of rationality in the economist’s sense, as a faculty that is concerned with maximizing the satisfaction of agents’ present preferences. He contrasts this notion of locally maximizing rationality with what can be called globally maximizing rationality. This latter concept is perhaps best illustrated by those interesting situations where the best “strategy” is irrationality.

Behavioural Finance
William Forbes lays out the fundamentals of behavioral finance.

The Psychology of Investing
Traditional finance has focused on developing the tools that investors use to optimize expected return and risk. Understanding the motivations behind this behavior is extremely important when applying these financial tools.

Beyond Greed and Fear: Understanding Behavioral Finance and the Psychology of Investing
An entertaining, yet scholarly overview of the subject.

Economics and Psychology: A Promising New Cross-Disciplinary Field
The essays in Economics and Psychology take a broad view of the interface between these two disciplines, going beyond the usual focus on “behavioral economics.” As documented in this volume, the influence of psychology on economics has been responsible for a view of human behavior that calls into question the assumption of complete rationality (and raises the possibility of altruistic acts), the acceptance of experiments as a valid method of economic research, and the idea that utility or well-being can be measured.

Irrational Exuberence*
A cult-classic at the time it was written.

An Introduction to Behaviorial Economics
…a superb introduction to the field of behavioral economics, suitable not only as an introductory text, but also as an entry-point for those desiring an engaging overview of the field.

Moral Markets : the Critical Role of Values in the Economy
This collection of essays provides an accessible guided tour of the frontier of current research in sociology, economics, biology and philosophy.

The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less
…we are faced with far too many choices on a daily basis, providing an illusion of a multitude of options when few honestly different ones actually exist.

More Than You Know: Finding Financial Wisdom in Unconventional Places
A must read.

The Little Book of Behavioral Investing: How not to be your own worst enemy
…will enable you to identify and eliminate behavioral traits that can hinder your investment endeavors and show you how to go about achieving superior returns in the process.

Morals and Markets: an Evolutionary Account of the Modern World
Economist and evolutionary game theorist Daniel Friedman demonstrates that our moral codes and our market systems-while often in conflict-are really devices evolved to achieve similar ends, and that society functions best when morals and markets are in balance with each other.

Heuristics and Biases: The Psychology of Intuitive Judgement
When are people’s judgments prone to bias, and what is responsible for their biases? This book compiles psychologists’ best attempts to answer these important questions.

Moral Sentiments and Material Interests: the Foundations of Cooperation in Economic Life
“This book presents social science at its interdisciplinary best: an exhilarating mix of game theory, evolutionary biology, experimental economics, cultural anthropology, grammatology, and policy analysis. It will change our views of how biology and culture together determine social behavior.” —Daniel Kahneman

The Bounds of Reason: Game Theory and the Unification of the Behavioral Sciences
Game theory alone cannot fully explain human behavior and should instead complement other key concepts championed by the behavioral disciplines. Herbert Gintis shows that just as game theory without broader social theory is merely technical bravado, so social theory without game theory is a handicapped enterprise.

The Methodology of Experimental Economics
This book provides the first comprehensive analysis and critical discussion of the methodology of experimental economics, written by a philosopher of science with expertise in the field.

The Handbook of Experimental Economics
…presents a comprehensive critical survey of the results and methods of laboratory experiments in economics.

Thinking and Deciding
has established itself as the required text and important reference work for students and scholars of human cognition and rationality.

Judgement Under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases
This volume is an important collection of papers, with relevance to anyone working in fields where decision-making is at the core. This is THE book.

Choices, Values, and Frames
…presents an empirical and theoretical challenge to classical utility theory, offering prospect theory as an alternative framework. Extensions and applications to diverse economic phenomena and to studies of consumer behavior are discussed. The book also elaborates on framing effects and other demonstrations that preferences are constructed in context, and it develops new approaches to the standard view of choice-based utility.

The Construction of Preference
When asked to make a decision, people often don’t really know what they want; they must construct their preferences ‘on the spot’. This book describes the concept of preference construction, tracing the blossoming of this idea within psychology, economics, marketing, law, and environmental policy.

Behavioural Finance: Insights into Irrational Minds and Markets
A good introduction.

Value Investing: Tools and Techniques for Intelligent Investment
why everything you learnt at business school is wrong

A Short History of Financial Euphoria
In this small but witty and well-crafted book, Galbraith chronicles the major speculative episodes, from the seventeenth-century tulipmania to the junk-bond follies of the eighties.

Manias, Panics, and Crashes
…an engaging and entertaining account of the way that mismanagement of money and credit has led to financial explosions over the centuries. Covering such topics as the history and anatomy of crises, speculative manias, and the lender of last resort, this book puts the turbulence of the financial world in perspective.

Devil Take the Hindmost: A History of Financial Speculation
A must read.

Animal Spirits: How Human Psychology Drives the Economy, and Why It Matters for Global Capitalism
Akerlof and Shiller reassert the necessity of an active government role in economic policymaking by recovering the idea of animal spirits, a term John Maynard Keynes used to describe the gloom and despondence that led to the Great Depression and the changing psychology that accompanied recovery. Like Keynes, Akerlof and Shiller know that managing these animal spirits requires the steady hand of government–simply allowing markets to work won’t do it. In rebuilding the case for a more robust, behaviorally informed Keynesianism, they detail the most pervasive effects of animal spirits in contemporary economic life–such as confidence, fear, bad faith, corruption, a concern for fairness, and the stories we tell ourselves about our economic fortunes–and show how Reaganomics, Thatcherism, and the rational expectations revolution failed to account for them.

Discover Your Inner Economist
An engaging narrator, Cowen offers idiosyncratic strategies for appreciating museum art, for building family trust and cooperation, for writing a personal ad, for reading classic novels that seem boring on first inspection, for surviving torture, for properly practicing self-deception and for most effectively giving to beggars in Calcutta.

Additions to the list in 2011

Thinking, Fast and Slow
Kahneman takes us on a groundbreaking tour of the mind and explains the two systems that drive the way we think. System 1 is fast, intuitive, and emotional; System 2 is slower, more deliberative, and more logical. Kahneman exposes the extraordinary capabilities—and also the faults and biases—of fast thinking, and reveals the pervasive influence of intuitive impressions on our thoughts and behavior. The impact of loss aversion and overconfidence on corporate strategies, the difficulties of predicting what will make us happy in the future, the challenges of properly framing risks at work and at home, the profound effect of cognitive biases on everything from playing the stock market to planning the next vacation—each of these can be understood only by knowing how the two systems work together to shape our judgments and decisions.

Everything Is Obvious: *Once You Know the Answer
“Every once in a while, a book comes along that forces us to re-examine what we know and how we know it. This is one of those books. And while it is not always pleasurable to realize the many ways in which we are wrong, it is useful to figure out the cases where our intuitions fail us.”—Dan Ariely

Priceless: The Myth of Fair Value (and How to Take Advantage of It)
Poundstone dives into the latest psychological findings to investigate how and why prices are allocated.

Strangers to Ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious
Wilson attempts to explain why there’s so much about ourselves that we fail to understand, which can lead to misdirected anger.

Born Liars: Why We Can’t Live Without Deceit
“… a lively, engaging read that also makes a bold argument about the role of lying in our lives”

Ulysses Unbound: Studies in Rationality, Precommitment, and Constraints
This provocative book argues that, very often, people may benefit from being constrained in their options or from being ignorant.

What Investors Really Want: Know What Drives Investor Behavior and Make Smarter Financial Decisions
“We all share behavioral traits that are major roadblocks to intelligent financial decisions. Bottom line: if you really want to achieve investment success, understand yourself and eliminate or minimize these traits. This book will help you do exactly that.”—John C. Bogle

Prospect Theory: For Risk and Ambiguity
“This masterful survey of major theories of choice and of their implications for measurement represents two decades of research and teaching by a flawless perfectionist. Wakker’s view of the field is scholarly, coherent and deeply personal.”—Daniel Kahneman

Utility of Gains and Losses: Measurement-Theoretical and Experimental Approaches
…provides a penetrating analysis of the axioms underlying human choice theory and a thorough review of the evidence. Most importantly, he illustrates the process of decomposing theories into testable properties that become the building blocks for better theories. His relentless desire to reformulate theories in response to evidence is what makes this an extraordinary book by an extraordinary scientist.

The High Cost of Distractions

We tend to think that other people get distracted but not us. We’re different. We’re better than average. We can do more than one thing at a time and still be amazing.

Not so.

The always-on world of 24/7 bits and bytes is leaving an impact. While we cling to the illusion that we’re more productive, in reality, we’re not. Distractions eat time. And more importantly they create an environment where we shallow think.

Here is an excerpt from Your Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long, where author David Rock discusses this in more detail.

Distractions are everywhere. And with the always-on technologies of today, they take a heavy toll on productivity. One study found that office distractions eat an average 2.1 hours a day. Another study, published in October 2005, found that employees spent an average of 11 minutes on a project before being distracted. After an interruption it takes them 25 minutes to return to the original task, if they do at all. People switch activities every three minutes, either making a call, speaking with someone in their cubicle, or working on a document.

But that’s not all. Distractions are impacting our ability to focus. And focus is how we use second-order thinking. Rock writes:

Distractions are not just frustrating; they can be exhausting. By the time you get back to where you were, your ability to stay focused goes down even further as you have even less glucose available now. Change focus ten times an hour (one study showed people in offices did so as much as 20 times an hour), and your productive thinking time is only a fraction of what’s possible. Less energy equals less capacity to understand, decide, recall, memorize, and inhibit. The result could be mistakes on important tasks. Or distractions can cause you to forget good ideas and lose valuable insights. Having a great idea and not being able to remember it can be frustrating, like an itch you can’t scratch, yet another distraction to manage.

Maybe open-plan offices are not such a good idea after all. Not only do we do more work, but we do our best work when we’re distraction free.

***

If you enjoyed this article you’ll also like:

In Praise of Slowness: Challenging the Cult of Speed — This article explores our cultural desire for speed and its consequences. Slow, it turns out, is the best way to increase understanding and avoid problems.

How to Survive in an Open Office — The author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, Susan Cain, offers advice on how to survive in an open office.

 

Mental Model: Anchoring

We often pay attention to irrelevant information. This happens because we develop estimates by starting with an initial anchor that is based on whatever information is provided and adjust from the anchor (sometimes our adjustments are not sufficient). This is called anchoring.

More problematic perhaps is that the existence of an anchor leads people to think of information consistent with that anchor (commitment and consistency) rather than access information that is inconsistent with that anchor.

Anchoring is commonly observed in real estate and the stock market. Many BUYERS tend to negotiate based on the listed price of a house — and many SELLERS tend to determine the list priced based on adjusting their purchase price.

Some interesting points on anchoring: (1) Experts and non-experts are affected similarly by an anchor; (2) Anchoring-adjustment may occur in any task requiring a numerical response, provided an initial estimate is available; and (3) One study of particular importance for investors, by Joyce and Biddle (1981), found support for the presence of the anchoring effect among practicing auditors of major accounting firms.

* * *

Anchoring and adjustment was first theorized by Tversky and Kahneman. The pair demonstrated that when asked to guess the percentage of African nations which are members of the UN, people who were first asked “was it more or less than 35%” guessed lower values than those who had been asked if it was more or less than 65%. Subjects were biased by the number 45 or 65 and this had a meaningful influence on their judgment. Over time this bias has been shown in numerous experiments. Interestingly, paying participants based on their accuracy did not reduce the magnitude of the anchoring effect.

The power of anchoring can be explained by the confirmation heuristic and by the limitations of our own mind. We selectively access hypothesis-consistent information without realizing it. Availability may also play a role in anchoring.

There are numerous examples of anchoring in everyday life:

  • Children are tracked by schools that categorize them by ability at an early age and based on this initial “anchor” teachers derive expectations. Teachers tend to expect children assigned to the lower group to achieve little and have much higher expectations of children in the top group (for more info see Darley and Gross, 1983). Malcolm Gladwell talks more about anchoring in his book outliers.
  • First impressions are a form of anchoring.
  • Minimum payments on credit card bills.
  • Posted interest rates at Banks.
  • Prices on a menu in restaurants.
  • Race can also be an anchor with respect to our expectations (Duncan, 1976)

* * *

Heuristic and Biases: The Psychology of Intuitive Judgment offers:

“To examine this heuristic, Tversky and Kahneman (1974) developed a paradigm in which participants are given an irrelevant number and asked if the answer to the question is greater or less than that value. After this comparative assessment, participants provide an absolute answer. Countless experiments have shown that people’s absolute answers are influenced by initial comparison with the irrelevant anchor. People estimate that Gandhi lived to be roughly 67 years old, for example, if they first decided whether he died before or after the age of 140, but only 50years old if they first decided whether he died before or after the age of 9.

Anchoring effects have traditionally been interpreted as a result of insufficient adjustment from an irrelevant value, but recent evidence casts doubt on this account. Instead, anchoring effects observed in the standard paradigm appear to be produced by the increased accessibility of anchor consistent information.

* * *

In Judgment and Decision Making, David Hardman says:

Anchoring effects have been observed in a variety of domains including pricing, negotiation, legal judgment, lotteries and gambles, probability estimates, and general knowledge. In one of these studies, Northcraft and Neale (1987) demonstrated anchoring effects in the pricing estimates of estate agents…

Despite the robustness of the anchoring effect, there has been little agreement as to the true nature of the underlying processes. One theory that has been proposed is that of selective anchoring (Mussweilier and Strack, 1997). According to this account, the comparative question task activates information into memory that is subsequently more accessible when making an absolute judgment….

Epley (2004) listed four findings that are consistent with the selective memory account: (1) People attend to shared features between the anchor and target more than to unique features; (2) Completion of a standard anchoring task speeds identification of words consistent with implications of an anchor value rather than words inconsistent with it; (3) The size of anchoring effects can be influenced by altering the hypothesis tested in the comparative assessment (for example, asking whether the anchor is less than a target value has a different effect to asking whether it is more than a target value); (4) People with greater domain knowledge are less susceptible to the effects of irrelevant anchors.

* * *

In Fooled by Randomness, Nicholas Taleb writes:

Anchoring to a number is the reason people do not react to their total wealth, but rather to differences of wealth from whatever number they are currently anchored to. This is in major conflict with economic theory, as according to economists, someone with $1 million in the bank would be more satisfied than if he had $500 thousand but this is not necessarily the case.

* * *

Tversky and Kahneman (1974)

In many situations, people make estimates by starting from an initial value that is adjusted to yield the final answer. The initial value, or starting point, may be suggested by the formulation of the problem, or it may be the result of a partial computation. In either case, adjustments are typically insufficient (Slovic & Lichtenstein, 1971). That is, different starting points yield different estimates, which are biased toward the initial values. We call this phenomenon anchoring.

* * *

Russell Fuller writes:

Psychologists have documented that when people make quantitative estimates, their estimates may be heavily influenced by previous values of the item. For example, it is not an accident that a used car salesman always starts negotiating with a high price and then works down. The salesman is trying to get the consumer anchored on the high price so that when he offers a lower price, the consumer will estimate that the lower price represents a good value. Anchoring can cause investors to under-react to new information.

Anchoring is a Farnam Street Mental Model.

The Psychology of Pirates: How to Choose a Ransom

Reading The Invisible Hook really got me hooked on learning more about pirates.

How do pirates decide what ransom to ask for?

The answer, from an interview with an actual pirate, might surprise you. Despite what many think, they are very smart and intuitively grasp governance, incentives, and other aspects of human nature. This interview touches on incentives, reinforcement, moral hazard, and anchoring.

How do you pirates decide on what ransom to ask for?

Once you have a ship, it’s a win-win situation. We attack many ships everyday, but only a few are ever profitable. No one will come to the rescue of a third-world ship with an Indian or African crew, so we release them immediately. But if the ship is from Western country or with valuable cargo like oil, weapons or then its like winning a lottery jackpot. We begin asking a high price and then go down until we agree on a price.

How do you know a ship in far away coast in the first place and its flagship?

Often we know about a ship’s cargo, owners and port of origin before we even board it. That way we can price our demands based on its load. For those with very valuable cargo on board then we contact the media and publicize the capture and put pressure on the companies to negotiate for its release.

From what I’ve seen, initial demands tend to be about 10 times the previous publicized ransom, is this a rule of thumb?

We know that we won’t get our initial demands, but we use it as a starting point and negotiate downwards to our eventual target.  But as a rule, yes, that’s about right.

Does the length of a hijacking change the ransom that pirates are willing to accept?

Yes. Armed men are expensive as are the laborers, accountants, cooks and khat suppliers on land. During long negotiations our men get tired and we need to rotate them out three times a week. Add to that the risk from navies attacking us and we can be convinced to lower our demands.

 

What are the key factors to making a successful attack on a ship?

The key to our success is that we are willing to die, and the crews are not. Beyond that, in my case deploy a boat with six men to get close to the ship and leave another in reserve near the coast just in case we need backup. We use sophisticated equipment that allows us to spot our targets from a distance. We always have to be close to the main sea lane and keep in touch with each other using talkie phones.

 

How much does it cost to outfit a pirate mission?

A single mission with 12 armed men and boats costs a little over $30,000. But a successful investor has to dispatch at least three or four missions to get lucky once.

How are the pirates organized? (Are there pirate leaders, financiers, and specialists?)

The financiers are the most important since they organize and plan the big shot operations and are able to pay running cost[s]. Financiers always need to forge deals with traders, land cruiser owners, translators, business people to keep the supplies flowing during operations and manage the logistics.  There is a long supply chain involved in every hijacking.

 

Are there internal conflicts within the pirate gangs?

No. In piracy, everyones’ life depends on everyone else’s. There is some professional competition between groups, but we cooperate with information and logistics when it’s required. We won’t fight amongst ourselves as long as the money is paid as promised.  We have never had any conflicts within my group.

 

***

Still curious? The Invisible Hook looks at legendary pirate captains like Blackbeard, Black Bart Roberts, and Calico Jack Rackam, and shows how pirates’ search for plunder led them to pioneer remarkable and forward-thinking practices.

The Anatomy of a Decision: An Introduction to Decision Making

An Introduction to Decision Making

“The only proven way to raise your odds of making a good decision is
to learn to use a good decision-making process—one that can
get you the best solution with a minimal
loss of time, energy, money, and composure.”
— John Hammond

***

This is an introduction to decision making.

A good decision-making process can literally change the world.

Consider the following example from Predictable Surprises: In 1962, when spy planes spotted Soviet missiles in Cuba, U.S. military leaders urged President Kennedy to authorize an immediate attack. Fresh from the bruising failure of the Bay of Pigs, Kennedy instead set up a structured decision-making process to evaluate his options. In a precursor of the Devil’s Advocacy method, Kennedy established two groups each including government officials and outside experts, to develop and evaluate the two main options–attack Cuba or set up a blockade to prevent more missiles from reaching its shores. Based on the groups’ analysis and debate, Kennedy decided to establish a blockade. The Soviets backed down, and nuclear war was averted. Recently available documents suggest that if the United States had invaded Cuba the consequences would have been catastrophic: Soviet missiles that had not been located by U.S. Intelligence could still have struck several U.S. cities.

The concept of a decision-making process can be found in the early history of thinking. Decisions should be the result of rational and deliberate reasoning. Plato argues that human knowledge can be derived on the basis of reason alone using deduction and self-evident propositions. Aristotle formalized logic with logical proofs where someone could reasonably determine if a conclusion was true or false. However, as we will discover not all decisions are perfectly rational. Often, we let our system one thinking–intuition–make decisions for us. Our intuition is based on long-term memory that has been primarily acquired over the years through learning and allows our mind to process and judge without conscious awareness. System one thinking, however, does not always lead to optimal solutions and often tricks our mind to thinking that consequences and second-order effects are either non-existent or less probable than reality would indicate.

In Predictable Surprises Max Bazerman writes:

Rigorous decision analysis combines a systematic assessment of the probabilities of future events with a hard-headed evaluation of the costs and benefits of particular outcomes. As such, it can be an invaluable tool in helping organizations overcome the biases that hinder them in estimating the likelihood of unpleasant events. Decision analysis begins with a clear definition of the decision to be made, followed by an explicit statement of objectives and explicit criteria for assessing the “goodness” of alternative courses of action, by which we mean the net cost or benefit as perceived by the decision-maker. The next steps involve identifying potential courses of action and their consequences. Because these elements often are laid out visually in a decision tree, this technique is known as “decision tree analysis.” Finally, the technique instructs decision-makers to explicitly assess and make trade-offs based on the potential costs and benefits of different courses of action.

To conduct a proper decision analysis, leaders must carefully quantify costs and benefits, their tolerance for accepting risk, and the extent of uncertainty associated with different potential outcomes. These assumptions are inherently subjective, but the process of quantification is nonetheless extremely valuable’ it forces participants to express their assumptions and beliefs, thereby making them transparent and subject to challenge and improvement.

From Judgment in Management Decision Making by Max Bazerman:

The term judgment refers to the cognitive aspects of the decision-making process. To fully understand judgment, we must first identify the components of the decision-making process that require it.

Let’s look at six steps you should take, either implicitly or explicitly, when applying a “rational” decision-making process to each scenario.

1. Define the problem. (M)anagers often act without a thorough understanding of the problem to be solved, leading them to solve the wrong problem. Accurate judgment is required to identify and define the problem. Managers often err by (a) defining the problem in terms of a proposed solution, (b) missing a bigger problem, or (c) diagnosing the problem in terms of its symptoms. Your goal should be to solve the problem not just eliminate its temporary symptoms.

2. Identify the criteria. Most decisions require you to accomplish more than one objective. When buying a car, you may want to maximize fuel economy, minimize cost, maximize comfort, and so on. The rational decision maker will identify all relevant criteria in the decision-making process.

3. Weight the criteria. Different criteria will vary in importance to a decision maker. Rational decision makers will know the relative value they place on each of the criteria identified. The value may be specified in dollars, points, or whatever scoring system makes sense.

4. Generate alternatives. The fourth step in the decision-making process requires identification of possible courses of action. Decision makers often spend an inappropriate amount of search time seeking alternatives, thus creating a barrier to effective decision making. An optimal search continues only until the cost of the search outweighs the value of added information.

5. Rate each alternative on each criterion. How well will each of the alternative solutions achieve each of the defined criteria? This is often the most difficult stage of the decision-making process, as it typically requires us to forecast future events. The rational decision maker carefully assesses the potential consequences on each of the identified criteria of selecting each of the alternative solutions.

6. Compute the optimal decision. Ideally, after all of the first five steps have been completed, the process of computing the optimal decision consists of (a) multiplying the ratings in step 5 by the weight of each criterion, (b) adding up the weighted ratings across all of the criteria for each alternative, and (c) choosing the solution with the highest sum of weighted ratings.

Hammond, Keeney, and Raiffa suggest 8 steps in their book Smart Choices:

1. Work on the right problem.
2. Identify all criteria.
3. Create imaginative alternatives.
4. Understand the consequences.
5. Grapple with your tradeoffs.
6. Clarify your uncertainties.
7. Think hard about your risk tolerance.
8. Consider linked decisions.

* * *

People, however, are not always perfectly logical machines. In Judgment in Managerial Decision Making, the distinction between System One and System Two thinking becomes clear:

System 1 thinking refers to our intuitive system, which is typically fast, automatic, effortless, implicit, and emotional. We make most decisions in life using System 1 thinking. For instance, we usually decide how to interpret verbal language or visual information automatically and unconsciously. By contrast, System 2 refers to reasoning that is slower, conscious, effortful, explicit, and logical. System 2 thinking can be broken down into (1) define the problem; (2) identify the criteria; (3) weigh the criteria; (4) generate alternatives; (5) rate each alternative on each criterion; (6) compute the optimal decision.

In most situations, our system 1 thinking is quite sufficient; it would be impractical, for example, to logically reason through every choice we make while shopping for groceries. But System 2 logic should preferably influence our most important decisions.

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When making a decision we are psychologically influenced either consciously or unconsciously. By exploring these biases and other elementary worldly wisdom, I hope to make you a better decision maker.

Following a rational decision process can help us focus on outcomes that are low in probability but high in potential costs. Without easily quantifiable costs, we often dismiss low probability events or fall prey to biases. We don’t want to be the fragilista.

Even rational decision-making processes like the one presented above make several assumptions. The first assumption is that a rational decision maker is completely informed which means they know about all the possible options and outcomes. The second major assumption is that the decision maker does not fall prey to any biases that might impact the rational decision.

In researching decision-making processes it struck me as odd that few people question the information upon which criteria are measured. For instance, if you are purchasing a car and use fuel efficiency as the sole criterion for decision making you would need to make sure that the cars under consideration were all tested and measured fuel consumption in the same way. This second order of thinking can help you make better decisions.

If you want to make better decisions, you should read Judgment in Managerial Decision Making. Hands down that is the best book I’ve come across on decision making. If you know of a better one, please send me an email.

Stanovich’s book, What Intelligence Tests Miss: The Psychology of Rational Thought, proposes a whole range of cognitive abilities and dispositions independent of intelligence that have at least as much to do with whether we think and behave rationally.

 

Follow your curiosity to The best books on the psychology behind human decision making and Problem Solving 101.