Top 10 ways to make better decisions (New Scientist)

New Scientist this week has an excellent article on decision making. As I’m a Kepner-Tregoe program leader I’m interested in tools for decision making as Decision Analysis is one of the things we teach.

The text of the article is copyright but I hope it is acceptable to list the ten points:

1 Don’t fear the consequences
2 Go with your gut instincts
3 Consider your emotions
4 Play the devil’s advocate
5 Keep your eye on the ball
6 Don’t cry over split milk
7 Look at it another way
8 Beware social pressures
9 Limit your options
10 Have someone else choose

As it covers lots of research into the psychology of decision making it doesn’t go into any great depth but there are some illuminating findings in there.

Much of the research is about how satisfied we are with our decisions rather than whether we picked the best option. The two are related but not directly. This may be more important for individual decision making versus group decision making.

Some of the key points for me were:

  • Don’t avoid making decisions, things rarely turn out as good or as bad as you expect.
  • Simple decisions can be analysed, complex decisions often work better with gut feeling. Not recommended for highly emotive issues.
  • Context, social pressures, emotions and how we frame the decision are all significant factors.
  • Too many choices leaves us less satisfied with our final choice.

In the context of Kepner-Tregoe Decision Analysis the use of rational process should avoid much of the FUD around decision making, at least that’s what I find. That deals with items 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 10. As for the others …

7 Look at it another way: One of the most important things to get right in the KT processes is the initial statement, the pithy synopsis of what it is you are doing. The wording of a decision statement is pivotal in the process. It’s all too easy to colour your decision by inappropriate framing.

8 Beware social pressures: Either as an individual or as a group it’s hard to avoid being swayed by everyone else. Good facilitation of the decision analysis process is vital and can avoid things like groupthink.

9 Limit your options: Faced with too many alternatives we usually screen them against our MUSTS and our highest weighted WANTS. For me, too many alternatives gives me analysis-fatigue πŸ™‚

Point 2 is also interesting as it illustrates that human beings are surprisingly good decision makers, analysis is not always necessary or productive. However, for business decisions satisfaction with the final choice may be less important than the financial implications. Having said that, I often wonder if the mark of true and good leadership (political, business, etc) is productive and effective decision making based on instinct.

Perhaps truly good leaders make any reasonable choice in a complex decision successful?


Update: 7th April 2014

You should also check out this interview with Daniel Kahneman and Gary Klein when it comes to trusting your gut. They “failed to disagree” on the value of intuition versus a rational approach.

They came up with the two conditions necessary for intuition to be more reliable:

  • Predictability
  • Opportunities for learning (+ve and -ve feedback on previous decisions)



Leave a comment


  1. Umang Kumar

     /  May 9, 2007


    1 Don’t fear the consequences

    6 Don’t cry over split milk

    A nice pairing indeed! πŸ™‚
    I am curious what #10 is…?

    10 Have someone else chose

  2. Peter Harvey

     /  May 10, 2007

    Essentially, for some decisions we are happier having the decision made for us. The two types of decision identified were trivial and distasteful.
    In the former we don’t give ourselves credit for the decision. Examples quoted were choosing a wine at a restaurant and having a machine pick lottery numbers.
    In the latter it doesn’t matter whether we pick the best of the options or not, the distasteful nature of the decision makes us feel bad about it whatever. The examples quoted were a doctor making a choice for you as regards treatment and turning off life support.
    Choice doesn’t always bring happiness was the closing comment.

  3. Some interesting stuff on happiness and choice from Barry Schwartz:


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