Most decisions – say 90% – we make in our lives are reversible.
As a general principle for these reversible decisions, I’ve found it helpful to prioritize speed of decision making over accuracy.
This sounds crazy at first – why wouldn’t we try to get decisions right?
It turns out there’s a huge cost in waiting for all the information to appear. So, if we prioritize making the decision quickly instead, we can also go back and change the decision if we see data that tells us otherwise.
Over the long run, two things happen. First, quick experimentation beats deliberation.
And, second, with more repetition, we begin to develop a better gut and nose for the right direction. At that point, decision making speed morphs into decision making velocity (velocity = speed + direction – in this case, a direction that is in the ball park).
Decision making velocity, in turn, leads us to good judgement.
First and second order consequences are regularly in opposition. Unhealthy food, for example, has a good first order consequence (tasty) but a bad second order consequence. The effects of exercise or self reflection, on the other hand, are the opposite.
Most good things suck at first thanks to the inertia involved. This is why it is hard to keep adapting and evolving and why most people and organizations find it easier to be stuck in their old ways.
The big question, a question that we inadvertently ask ourselves when we make decisions, is – will we choose a painful but healthy route to progress or an unhealthy but comfortable delusion?
(H/T: Principles by Ray Dalio)
I received a replacement screen protector recently (warranty). As detail oriented tasks are not my strong suit, I went to an AT&T store to request help with putting it on my phone screen.
A minute into the procedure (for the lack of a better word), the sales associate who kindly helped out was getting visibly frustrated. He had aligned it nicely but was unable to remove four remnant air bubbles. So, I gave it a try and got the number down to two – both of which were below the screen.
As he was steeling himself to try again, I thanked him for his time and explained that I’d be happy to live with this.
I admittedly came home and tinkered with it for another minute – but, I stopped.
For every such decision, I can think of multiple – big and small – where I’ve wasted a lot of time attempting to get to better and then to perfect. No good has come out of that wasted time.
The list of things worth maximizing in this life are very short. The sooner we realize that, the easier and happier our days are.
And, in case you are wondering about screen protector – I haven’t noticed it yet. When I do, I plan to do what I generally do when dealing with damaged objectives – I remind myself that the bubbles exist to remind me that life isn’t perfect.
It isn’t – thanks heavens for that.
3 notes on decisions for the week –
1) Being afraid of making decisions is as useless as being afraid of being judged. Both are happening – whether we like it or not. So, we’re better off accepting that fact and dancing with it.
2) Once we commit to rising above the fear and making decisions, it is a certainty that we’ll get a few of them wrong. The only useful habit when faced with these mistakes is a focus on a creative, constructive, and corrective response. Fix issues and avoid repeat mistakes.
3) Nearly every decision we’re worried about right now won’t matter a jot in the long run. The stakes are generally far lower than we think. Worry less, smile more – this will pass.
The trouble with aiming to always do the right thing is that it doesn’t apply to a majority of situations we encounter everyday.
Every once a while, we may encounter a situation where we know exactly what the right thing is. But, more often than not, it is unclear what we ought to optimize for and for what time frame.
A better approach, then, is to aim to do the thoughtful thing. It is a great approach to minimize regret and maximize peace as it means we’ve done the best with what we know. When we know better, we will do better.
And, besides, it turns out that the right thing is just the cumulative result of one thoughtful decision after another.
There’s a growing legion of companies and product teams that aspire to call themselves “data driven.” When they make decisions, they tell tales of how Google tested 40 shades of blue and eliminated the need for intuition and gut-based decision making.
But, as data might suggest, extreme beliefs in any approach are problematic and a belief in data driven decisions is no exception.
For the data to point the way, we need suitable problems, the right inputs and tracking based on good questions and thoughtful hypotheses, reliable data pipelines, good analytical judgment in overlooking outliers and picking a robust methodology, and versatility in the tools to analyze and interpret the outputs. Every once a while, all of these align and it all just works.
But, for the most part, we’re better off marrying a desire for data with a healthy skepticism for what it is telling us. It is that skepticism that will ensure we keep pushing for the right questions and iterate our way into insights that get us closer to the truth.
Better to be data informed than data driven.
We were trying to sell an old car recently and had placed it in a used car parking lot. These lots charge a monthly rent. So, you are incentivized to sell your vehicle within the first month. The question for us, then, – when is the optimal time to sell? For example, do we hold out till the end of the month and wait for the best offer?
Luckily, mathematics has a solution for us. The optimal time to stop is at 37%. If you have a 100 candidates for your next role, the most optimal way to make a decision on the best candidate is to reject the first 37 and then pick the first of the next few that is better than the first 37. Essentially, the algorithm suggests we use the first 37 to calibrate.
Optimal stopping can be extended to time as well. In this case, we had 30 days to sell and 37% of 30 days is 11.1 days. By that logic, we would hold out for the first 11 days and then sell – assuming a half decent offer comes along. Our first offer came after 14 days and we sold for a price that was eventually slightly lesser than we’d planned for. But, we had no regrets because math told us that we’d made the optimal decision.
Algorithms like optimal stopping are likely the future of psychology and behavioral economics. Optimal stopping can be applied to choosing a restaurant, a spouse, and while buying a house. As we learn about our fallibility in making decisions, we can use algorithms like this one to get better at making decisions.
(H/T: Algorithms to Live By – Brian Christian and Tom Griffiths)