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enhancing productivity

Thinking Clearly for Better Decision Making (Part 1)

In today’s really hectic workplace it is really important that as leaders we know how to think clearly.

Understanding a little about our psychology can be useful in ensuring we perform at our best when problem solving and therefore make better decisions. Bear with me here I am simplifying but you could consider there to be 4 main mistakes of thinking that are not uncommon in leaders and other human beings.  These are:

1.       Misled by assumptions

2.       Jumping on what springs to mind

3.       Being misled by others opinions

4.       Making false associations

I will discuss the first 2 here in part one of this article

Misled by Assumptions

“The human understanding once it has adopted an opinion draws all things else to support and agree with it” Francis bacon

Neuroscience informs is that we think in neural networks and for efficiency sake our brain tries to automate what thinking it can. We all develop a theory of how the world works and we need this to successfully navigate ourselves around in a changing world. This automation in thinking allows us to take many things for granted so we can focus our limited mental resources on the new and different and interesting.  Trouble is that once we have formed an opinion we have adopted a “Bias” and it can be hard to change this belief. Here is an example suppose your best friend up to now successful manager in another company is warned for poor performance. 

That probably doesn’t fit your view of him so first information that doesn’t fit is discounted there must be some mistake it will get resolved. Secondly it is distorted so you may assume that there is another agenda here like a personality clash…

We are not clinically evaluating all new information but what we see and perceive is so influenced by the filters of everything we have in our long term memories (values, beliefs, experiences etc.).

We all have our biases but we can reduce there effect by being aware of them and through an act of will choosing to look for evidence that disproves our theory, committing to memory those situations where our assumptions were incorrect, and trying to be open and flexible and reflective where we feel it might be more important to do so.

Jumping on What Springs to Mind

This is a kind of information retrieval theory; basically the first thing that comes to mind has a disproportionate effect on our reasoning and opinions. A classic experiment by Solomon Asch in the 1940’s asked people to form an opinion on someone who were described as “intelligent, industrious, impulsive, critical, stubborn, and envious.” If the word were presented in that order the opinions were more positive than if the words were reversed. The adjective presented first created a favourable or unfavourable impression.  Another aspect of this retrieval is recency. Things that we have experienced more recently have disproportionate impact.   Have we not experienced this in appraisals?)  Lastly strongly emotional events are tagged by the brain for easy retrieval and are more likely to influence our thinking depending on if we are feeling good or feeling bad.

So take your time for important decisions use a structured approach to weigh up pros and cons, check out your decisions with others using 2 minds is usually better than one for reducing biases

Check in next week for part 2 of this article where I will talk about the remaining 2 main thinking mistakes plus 4 simple principles borrowed from statistics to bear in mind if you want to think clearly.

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