Posted by: John Vandivier | April 14, 2013

My Top 7 Decision Making Tools

The other night when I had dinner with J Warner Wallace I was advised to listen to Greg Koukl’s Audio Edition of Decision Making and the Will of God.

I haven’t read the book and I will post my findings here when I do, but I thought it would be useful to discuss how I make decisions right now first. It will be insightful as a model for others and also useful to find what, if anything, changes based on the book.

These are my Top 7 Decision Making Tools:

1 – Spontaneous Thought and Intuition
I don’t know how it works or why, but I do know it drives a huge portion of my decisions. Before I reason I intuit. I don’t plan on thinking, I just do!

2 – Observation Control and Information Dieting
Which came first the observation or the thought of the observation? I don’t know, but I do know that over time I have realized that the majority of my spontaneous thought is based on an outgrowth of things I have observed in the past. I consider something previously observed and, consequently, I may synthesize a new idea. I have developed an Information Diet to take advantage of this mechanism. By forcing myself to observe productive things and ignore useless information I find that my spontaneous thoughts are also more useful. I don’t watch sports much anymore nor do I read mainstream magazines, listen to mainstream radio or the mainstream news. I take care to listen to music with a good message and news which informs things I can actually put to use. For example political talk shows which may inform me as a voter. I really came to crystallize this notion of information dieting after reading this blog a while back and I recommend you look it over. I was also recommended to read this book, but I haven’t yet and have no idea how good it is.>

3 – Risk Acceptance and Curiosity. Trial and Error With Reflection.
I’m not an adrenaline junkie or a gambling addict, but there is a time when you need to accept risk. This is tied to learning. Get involved in something you don’t understand. Pretty soon you will understand it! Even if you decide that what you have done is less than desirable take comfort in the fact that you have learned from the situation and do something better next time. The process of elimination is more than a test strategy. Guess and check is more than a test strategy. These are logical decision making strategies which can apply in life. See a new fruit at the store? Buy it! Maybe you will like it! If you don’t like it take time and think about why. Then you can avoid the specific mistake as well as a whole family of related mistakes because you put some effort into reflection as well.

4 – Better Safe Than Sorry. Conservatism. If It Ain’t Broke Don’t Fix It.
This is the opposite of point 3. They are a contradiction. Does that mean I never know what to do? No! It means I have learned how to strike a balance between the two. They are both useful at different times. If I buy a nice crystal plate but it’s a bit heavy and I’m worried it will fall through my shopping bag, double bag it! We may have just wasted a bag, but better safe than sorry. If I could buy a new engine for my car that’s great but what does that accomplish? The old engine was just fine. Maybe it lengthened the car’s life and maybe not, but don’t you think you could have done something better with your time? Should you risk money on stocks? Of course! I do all the time! However we shouldn’t risk the rent bill’s money or the utility bill’s money. It’s worth losing out on a little potential earnings to safeguard against a large potential loss.

5 – Opportunity Cost
In point 4 I mention buying a new car engine. It’s about more than the cost of the engine. It’s also about the cost of not having the other thing I could have bought. Instead of dinner for a month I bought a new car engine. Is the cost of low quality dinners for a month worth the reward of a nicer engine? Here’s a lesson on opportunity cost from the very cool Kahn Academy:

6 – Get Practical
Little change or big change? How will you do it? Are the resources around? Is this really possible or just a dream? Making a decision is a waste of time if the thing never gets realized.

7 – Always Ask Why and Moral Filtering
I really have saved the best for last. Decisions are about more than money. Social costs matter. Political costs matter. One thing that certainly drives much decision making is efficiency. The ratio of reward to input cost. However there are some things we don’t want done efficiently. There are some things we don’t want done at all. Some things we would like to reduce efficiency of! Or prevent altogether! Things like lying, hate, starvation and murder. You know, bad things. What are bad things? The heart of all decision making is morality. Asking why can really help people analyze their own morality. Sometimes you need to check if your operational morality matches your intellectual morality as well.

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