William Morris: Adventures in Decision-Making

This isn’t my advice, it comes from the 1973 book How to Get Rich Slowly, But Almost Surely: Adventures in Decision-Making by William Morris.

“It’s foolish,” Morris writes, “to suppose that anyone could give you a set of rules for making … decisions which you would actually follow. Something of greater subtlety, but also of greater practicality is involved.”

It’s useful to make judgments about the quality and effectiveness of your decision making. Only when you look at how you make decisions, will actual behavioral changes result.

You’ve got to begin by appreciating your own self-image by seeing your own style, and by becoming conscious of what you ordinarily do without the slightest self-consciousness. Then compensation and change will begin to occur, almost entirely without effort on your part.

So, let’s take a precise look at our behavior in the way we make decisions. How do we make decisions?

Here are some questions to ask (Keep in mind that one style of deciding isn’t necessarily better than another):

To what extent is your style of decision making intuitive, implicit and private? To what extend is it analytical, explicit, and open?

To what degree are you tolerant of ambiguity in a decision situation? Can you decide in the face of ambiguous notions about objectives or ambiguous statements of the alternative courses of action? Some studies suggest that experienced decision makers are highly tolerate of ambiguity and capable of resolving it in their own special ways.

Similarly, to what degree are you tolerant of uncertainty as to the consequences of various actions? Some of us require considerable information and assurances before we will act, others are far more willing to act on the basis of limited information and substantial uncertainty. We should not imagine that one such style is always “better” than the other.

How reasonable is your hindsight? How effectively do you learn from your past decisions? Are you given to regretting decisions which turn out badly or do you suppress these feelings and look to the future? Do you distinguish clearly between a good decision which depends on reason and logic, and a good result or outcome which always depends to some degree on chance, luck and circumstances beyond your control.

How much cognitive effort to you invest in a decision? Some decision makers are careful and deliberate thinkers, others tend to proceed “off the top of their heads” or “by the seat of their pants.”

To what degree do you seek external aids or outside help in deciding?

To what extent is there a need for coherence between your beliefs, your actions, and your objectives?

We may seek coherence by becoming more optimistic about a course of action after we have chosen it, than before. Sometimes we adopt the belief that what we have become committed to is the best possible course of action, while we had no such conviction prior to our commitment. We achieve coherence or reduce “cognitive dissonance” by revising our preconceptions.

How sensitive are your unaided decision making ability to conditions of stress? There is considerable evidence that most of us become distinctly poorer decision makers when we are under stress or pressure.

To what extent are your perceptions and thoughts influenced, not so much by the external world, as by our own needs and desires. One of the great discoveries of modern psychology is that what we see and what we think are influenced subconsciously by our needs and tensions.

To what degree are your clear about your own decision making processes? How much self-knowledge or self-consciousness do you have in this connection? It is well established that we seldom understand very well the reasons we do what we do, or the goals we are striving to attain.

To what degree are your perceptions of the external world distorted because of distortions shared by your associates? Science is full of instances of socially shared distortions, often going about under the heading of “common sense.” Indeed, one of the best definitions of common sense pictures it as that kind of sense which tells us when we look out of the window that the world is flat.

To what degree do you abstract or simplify the external world in making a decision?

To what degree do you rely on rules of thumb or platitudes for disposing of decision problems?

To what degree do you look ahead in a decision? Is the planning horizon in the relatively near, or relatively distant future? One of the skills of a good chess player is his ability to look ahead to the future consequences of his moves. The ability of computers to play chess is rather directly related to their “look-ahead” ability.

When things are looking very bad, how good are you at remaining clam and free from a slight panicky feeling?

How much experience do you have in living with the consequences of you choices? Have you made some “big” decisions?

How strong is your desire to get immediate, remarkable results when you make a decision?

What can you say about your ability to see the facts, the data, both sides of a question, when you are confronted with an emotionally charged decision situation?

How do you rate yourself in terms of self-confidence and respect for your own abilities?

How capable are you of filtering through the giving structure to large volumes of information?

Do you have a tendency to write down important considerations when you have to make a decision of some consequence?

— Via How to Get Rich Slowly.