By: Yiqin Houston
In my work as a project manager, I am often tasked with making decisions with limited information and plenty of uncertainty.
Like a detective investigating a crime, I walk into meetings hoping to interview all the witnesses, gather the evidence and come to a conclusion. On a good day, I’ll send out meeting minutes that contain a summary of the key points.
For most of us however, day to day life doesn’t usually follow the plot line of a who-dun-it. The crime isn’t always solved, the loose ends remain loose. Despite our best efforts, we inevitably have to make difficult decisions with little information on the spot. on the spot.
I was in the middle of making one of these decisions when I came across Annie Duke’s How to Decide: Simple Tools for Making Better Choices. Given Annie’s background as both a working mum, and a professional poker player, I was immediately curious.
Imagine I was on Seek looking for a new job. Suppose if I had taken the first job that was offered to me, and it turned out well. I loved the team, the role suited my skills and after 6 months I was very happy. Would that mean taking the job was a brilliant decision? What if that same job was terrible, the team was toxic and my boss a micromanager. Would that mean taking the job was a terrible decision?
“Resulting” is where we evaluate the quality of our decisions based on the outcome they achieve.
In other words: If we got the result we wanted, we assume it must be because we did something right. If we didn’t get the result we wanted, we assume it must be because we did something wrong. In my hypothetical example, I took the first job that was offered to me. The result doesn’t tell us much about the quality of the decision-making process I made.
So what was the best decision you made in the last month? Chances are you thought of something that had a positive outcome. What was the worst decision you made in the last month? Perhaps you thought about something that didn’t go so well. In either case, you probably didn’t give much consideration to the quality of the decision making process.
Duke says: “Often, we judge the quality of our decisions based on the outcomes they produce. However, this can be misleading because sometimes even good decisions can lead to bad outcomes due to factors beyond our control.”
Or more simply: Decision + Circumstances beyond our control = Outcomes
When we judge a decision based on the outcome, are we detectives that skip the investigating process all together and jump straight to a verdict? How can we better assess whether our choices were good? What can we do to get better at making decisions?
Duke suggests we focus on the quality of the decision-making process itself by considering factors such as the information available to us at the time of decision, the potential outcomes (including ones that didn’t happen), and the trade-offs involved.
When I paused to consider how I tend to make decisions, I realised my decisions were about the time/accuracy trade-off. Increasing accuracy costs time, saving time costs accuracy. In order to determine how fast I could make a decision, I needed to work out the penalty for not getting the decision exactly right. That’s when I realised there are really two types of decisions. Let me explain.
I don’t spend much time deciding what to wear or picking off the restaurant menu anymore. When it comes to repeating decisions, or decisions that are low impact, the time/accuracy trade-off is obvious – I can afford to be not very accurate because it is unlikely to affect my happiness in a week or a year. When the penalty for not getting the decision exactly right is negligible, I can choose quickly, because the choices I make will not have a lasting impact on the trajectory of my life.
The funny thing is, according to Duke, the average person spends 250-275 hours a year deciding what to eat, watch and wear. But what about life’s big questions? When does accuracy matter?
I think accuracy matters when the decision is going to affect my happiness in a year (like where I choose to work), in twenty years (like who I choose to marry) or into eternity (yes, I believe there are decisions I make that will impact me into eternity). These are the decisions that matter, because they will have a lasting impact on our lives.
Remember that hypothetical job situation earlier? I confess, that was me. I was looking for a job and took the first job I was offered. It was the outcome I wanted, but I’m also aware there were plenty of factors outside of my control which led to that outcome. For example: I get along well with my new manager and also with the new team members who started after me.
Even though the outcome was positive, there were elements of my decision making that could have been improved. Why should I bother if the outcome was positive? Because there is an opportunity to learn and strengthen my decision making muscle for the next time a tricky decision comes along. Instead of congratulating myself on a positive result this time, my decision could have been improved by considering whether there was information I could gather which would change my decision; or by mapping out a list of possible outcomes that could eventuate, or by applying the time/accuracy trade-off.
You see, when we strengthen our decision making muscles, we are better able to objectively accept our decisions, even if the result is not what we hoped for. By focusing more on the process, and less on the result, we can improve the quality of our future high impact decisions.
I mentioned earlier one super high impact decision – which has to do with eternity. As a follower of Jesus, I believe the decision one makes about him impacts our lives now and into eternity.
You might be thinking that given that so much of life is out of our control – death and the after life even more so.
When it comes to eternity, I am trusting in a promise.
“Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he [God] who promised is faithful”. (Hebrews 10:23)
I’m trusting that God will keep his promise – that those who have a relationship with Jesus now will transcend death and enjoy that relationship even more in a future world of perfect joy, harmony and peace. That God will keep his promise is not without evidence. Jesus is a real figure in human history. There is good evidence that he lived, died and was resurrected (raised to life, never to die again) 2000 years ago. I trust the promise of what God will do for me in the future based on what God did in raising Jesus in the past.
From God’s side his promises are 100% certain. But from my side, I don’t need 100% certainty. I need just enough belief or trust in Jesus to want him in my life, shaping and informing every decision I make.
I can safely say that trusting Jesus with my eternity has been the best decision I have ever made. Even though there are no less circumstances beyond my control, my hope is secure, and my life is full of purpose, meaning and peace. Even when results don’t go my way, I can hold onto God’s promise because I know he won’t let me down. It’s as though I am playing poker knowing the odds are in my favour.
So where have we landed with all of this? How to get results – without resulting. Thinking more about the quality of our decision-making process: the information available, potential outcomes and possible trade-offs. And in particular thinking about the time/accuracy trade-off and when accuracy really matters.
I’ll certainly keep this in mind when I’m looking for my next job. I may end up taking the first job offered to me, who knows. But if I do, it won’t be without first giving consideration to the quality of my decision making process.
Q. What’s the best decision you made in the last month – and the worst?
Q. Does the concept of resulting resonate with you?
Q. What are low, middle, high and super high impact decisions for you?
Q. How could you give more consideration to the quality of your decision making process?
Q. What role are your values playing in your decisions?
Article supplied with thanks to City Bible Forum.
Feature image: Photo by Letizia Bordoni on Unsplash