Aug 292013 6 Responses

Dr. Seuss Said You Are Bad at Decision Making

We are bad at decision making. Dr. Seuss said, “Simple it’s not, I’m afraid you will find for a mind maker-upper to make up his mind.”

Seuss was right.

As I’ve written before, I truly believe what we do matters. Our lives matter.

Because our lives matter, our decisions matter.

We are some of the few people to have ever lived whose lives are primarily determined by our own decisions.

  • We choose who we marry.
  • We choose what we do.
  • We choose where we live.

Never has anyone had as much control over their lives as we have, yet it’s possible that no people have ever been as unhappy as most of us are.

Even though we choose who we marry, divorce rates are high.

Even though we choose where we work, job satisfaction rates are low.

Even though we choose most aspects of our lives, many people are not happy.

The Good News: Never has humanity’s decisions matter so much.

The Bad News: We are bad at decision making.

Doubt this?

Go to Wal-Mart on a Friday night and realize—every person in the store made a conscious decision of what to wear in public.

Still doubt this?

Consider every person you ever voted for—at the time you thought it was a good decision.

Still don’t believe?

Must I bring up your ex-husband or the girl you used to date or your excitement over the hiring of that coach?

Humanity is bad at decision making.

When given more control of our lives, humanity doesn’t necessarily become more happy, satisfied or content.

Obviously the answer isn’t to give control of our lives over to others.

The answer is to become better at decision making.

Consider this: Never have our decisions mattered more than today and clearly humanity is bad at decision making.

So:

  • How many books have you read about decision making?
  • How many classes or seminars have you attended?
  • How much research have you done to make better decisions?

For most of us, the answer is none.

When it comes to decision making, I want to be contrarian.

I want to make decisions in a way that is contrary to how most people think.

Why be contrarian? Because humanity is bad at decision making.

What makes sense to us is often wrong.

Here are four posts which show a contrarian guide to decision making:

1. We should not follow our hearts. Few things are more deceitful than our own hearts. Society says to listen to them; I say lead them. Our hearts need to be guarded and guided, not followed.

2. Love your friends, but don’t listen to them. Generally speaking, your friends are no smarter than you. So why should we listen to them? Friends are supposed to support us, to walk with us through our lives. They are  not called to be our closest advisers. For that, we need someone smarter than us and our friends. Watch the game with your friends, but follow the advice of your advisers.

3. We should ignore outcomes and focus on processes. Outcomes matter, but processes are far more important. Outcomes reveal one decision, processes are the way every decision is made. I’m far more concerned with making a decision the right way than making the right decision.

4. If you don’t like your decision, change your mind. We fool ourselves into thinking we only get one shot to make a right decision. When choosing to donate a kidney or sky dive that might be accurate, but with most decisions we can change our minds. If you don’t like the outcome, change it. We make the best decision we can, see how it goes, and then undo it if we don’t like the outcome.

Decision making is far too important for us to assume we are good at it. We aren’t. It is a skill we need to learn, but learning starts with humility.

If you want to start making better decisions, pick up one of these books:

Decisive by Chip and Dan Heath

Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

Nudge by Richard Thaler

What do you think is an important principle in decision making?

6 Responses to Dr. Seuss Said You Are Bad at Decision Making
  1. glendakuhn Reply

    Be patient. Do not follow your first impulse.

  2. Diane Fagan Reply

    Kevin, this post will be printed out and reread, for sure! Thanks for sharing your valuable insights.

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