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A handful of antidotes for poisonous decision traps

“The field of neuroeconomics was born out of the realization that the physical workings of the brain place limitations on the way we make decisions.” Gregory Berns, iconoclast: a neuroscientist reveals how to think differently (Harvard Bus. Press 2008) at 6. We all struggle with biases that undermine good decision-making. This blog has covered several snakes in the grass that distort human cognition (See my post of March 15, 2009: cognitive traps with 21 references.).

To counteract poisoned fangs, a few antidotes might save your decisions (See my post of Feb. 18, 2006: three thoughts on how to make better decisions; and Oct. 24, 2008: palliatives.).

  1. Allow yourself time to mull over any important decision (See my post Feb. 20, 2007: sleep on it to make a good decision.).

  2. Play devil’s advocate to your own decisions or ask someone else to challenge your thinking (See my post of Oct. 24, 2008: try to disprove your “certain” belief; and Sept. 4, 2006: alternatives, surrogate arguers, and goals.).

  3. Do your homework, gather facts, and genuinely test your assumptions (See my post of Dec. 22, 2009: three common delusions.).

  4. Collect and think through data that will clarify the decision. Do not simply fall back on whatever data can quickly be brought to light. For example, early case assessment (ECA) could be seen as a discipline to improve decisions on lawsuits (See my post of May 10, 2006: frame the problem.).

  5. Seek quantitative facts about memorable events and balance that against the unremarked, ordinary events that take place most of the time (See my post of Dec. 22, 2005: “reference classes”.).

  6. State clearly the problem to be addressed, the decisions that must be made, the objective of the decision-making process, the issues that influence the objective, and the sources of uncertainty (See my post of Jan. 17, 2006: write out the elements of the decision.).

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