4 ways to instantly improve your decision-making

23 September 2019

Amantha Imber

Dr Amantha Imber is the founder of Inventium, an innovation consultancy that only uses tools that have been scientifically proven to work.

Here are four scientific ways to help you make better decisions in the workplace.

Many people in many organisations make bad decisions every day. Poor hiring decisions are made, people decide to launch products or processes that end up failing, and the majority of acquisitions made by companies fail to add any value to shareholders.

Given that many employees and managers have never received formal training in how to make effective decisions, it’s not surprising that bad decisions are made so regularly. However, there is a great deal of scientific research into how to make better decisions, which remains largely unknown and underutilised. Here are four of them:

1. Don’t make big decisions after lunch

Research into the topic of decision fatigue has revealed that the more decisions a person makes over the course of a day, the worse the quality of those decisions become. Human beings start every day with a set amount of cognitive resources, and every single decision made, big or small, eats away at these resources.

As such, schedule the most important decisions for first thing in the morning, or at least before lunch, in order to optimise decision-making quality.

2. Dim the lights

Emotion is one of the biggest enemies of effective decision-making. A transient emotional state can lead to decisions that are overly influenced by what feels important right now, but may lead to decisions that have poorer outcomes over the longer-term.

To help reduce the impact of emotion when making decisions, turn down the lights a bit. Research from the University of Toronto Scarborough has shown that emotions are felt more intensely in brightly lit environments, so instead, dim the lights and by doing so, reduce the impact of intense emotions that may be clouding your decision-making.

3. Don’t make decisions with people who are just like you

People often default to making decisions, especially work-related ones, with others who are perceived to be similar. The familiarity heuristic suggests humans have a preference for the familiar, and as such, often tend to hang out with and work with people who are just like themselves.

When it comes to decision-making, scientists have found that we need to deliberately introduce diversity to arrive at better decisions. from Tufts University found that racially diverse groups perform significantly better on decision-making tasks, compared to racially homogenous groups.

For example, in one study, mock juries consisting of both white and black people (compared to all-white juries) had broader deliberations, made fewer factual errors, and recalled more facts about the case that were incorporated into the final decision.

4. Practise mindfulness for 15 minutes

Many bad decisions can be related to the ‘sunk cost fallacy’, whereby the more a person is invested in something, the more psychologically difficult it is to abandon it.

Research has shown that engaging in 15 minutes of mindfulness meditation actually increases resistance to the sunk cost fallacy – that is, it makes it easier to stay focused on the present, as opposed to dwelling on the past.

Maximise your decision-making

These are just a few of the traps that prevent people from making good decisions. So, the next time a big decision presents itself, be deliberate about using strategies to maximise decision-making effectiveness.

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