How to make less-bad decisions

I can't say I always use this protocol, but I think of it often enough. Also, 7 other things worth your time.

Yesterday, I wrote about “bad Mondays,” along with questions to ask yourself to determine if you’re just having a down day, or if you’re on the wrong path—especially in the context of your career.

I mentioned a technique called the Mediating Assessments Protocol (MAP), and I was surprised as I was proofreading to realize that I’ve managed, in nearly two years of publishing Understandably, never to have mentioned this construct before.

That’s a shame—but not one that we can’t rectify.

It’s not that I always use MAP, but I do find it useful. And even when I don’t have the discipline to use it correctly, I find it reminds me about the important distinction between making good decisions and being decisive.

Here’s what the technique is about, plus a quick tutorial on how it works—straight from the mind of a Nobel prize-winning economist, and the halls of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Delay your decisions

At the outset, MAP is about making good decisions—even at the expense of making fast decisions.

Writing in MIT Sloan Management Review, Daniel Kahneman (he’s the Nobel winner), Dan Lovallo, and Olivier Sibony say the root cause for poor strategic decisions is that leaders fail to isolate their human biases and tendencies.

MAP has three components:

  1. Gathering evidence.

  2. Identifying disparate lines of inquiry.

  3. Analyzing and forming objective opinions.

That might seem basic… until you realize that steps 1 and 2 are sort of interchangeable and that most people, when making most decisions, subconsciously do step 3 first.

It makes more sense with an example that Kahneman and his colleagues used:

Suppose that a venture capital firm is deciding whether to invest in a startup.

Some of its partners have already been seen "an impressive product demo,” and they’re very excited about it.

The lurking danger is that they can let their excitement about the product color their impressions of other important factors, such as the team’s leadership skills, for example.

Basically, they can wind up wanting to believe that all the other factors they should consider will also support making an investment.

So the key becomes learning to forget what you want the outcome to be, and instead training yourself to isolate and identify what the evidence actually tells you.

Define the assessments

Of course, this all varies depending on the decisions you need to make. But you can probably identify some universal categories. If you're deciding whether to launch a business, for example, you might break the categories down into things like:

  • The severity of the problem you're trying to solve

  • Your technical ability to solve the problem

  • The size of the potential market

  • The barriers to entry for competitors

  • The quality and relevance of the team you've assembled

From there, it becomes easier to see how your excitement over one of these categories might lead you to unintentionally gloss over weaknesses in other categories.

Maybe you get very excited about the problem you want to solve, for example—to the point that you can make yourself believe that the barriers to entry for competitors are higher than they really are. (Been there.)

Forcing yourself to make each assessment separately can guard against that tendency, and lead to better decisions.

The final 10 percent

Now, MAP isn’t all “Mr. Spock.” The final 10% or so involves a lot more “Captain Kirk.”

That’s my metaphor, but it lines up with what Kahneman et al. write:

"Unlike algorithmic decision-making, which aims to take subjectivity out of the decision entirely, MAP values intuition, provided that it is informed. The holistic judgment of experienced executives is valuable, but it must first be prepared by a profile of mediating assessments."

So, MAP isn't about taking the human factor out of decision-making, but instead about holding back on intuition until after you've eliminated as much uncertainty as possible.

Doing that should allow you to make much better decisions. And the irony is that even though this approach can take more time at first, once you’ve trained yourself to do things this way, you’ll improve your speed as well.

You’ll still be decisive. You’ll just be right more often, too.

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7 other things worth your time

  • The US Food and Drug Administration gave its first full approval for a COVID-19 vaccine: Pfizer’s vaccine, which will now be marketed as Comirnaty. It’s approved for 16-year-olds and above, and remains available under emergency use authorization (EUA) for 12- to 15-year-olds. (FDA)

  • Another day, another new host of Jeopardy!: Mayim Bialik will take over in an expanded role, as the new-now-recurring search continues. (NY Post)

  • It’s not just your COVID vaccine: Schoolkids are falling behind on regular immunizations in a trend that may cause administrative and health challenges alike in the new school year. (AP)

  • On his way out of the governor’s mansion in Albany, New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has supposedly left behind his dog, Captain, a “high-strung mix of shepherd, Siberian, and malamute” that has “nipped a few people since Cuomo adopted him in 2018,” and is trying to find someone to take the canine off his hands. (Albany Times-Union)

  • A couple of Chick-fil-A restaurants made headlines for closing their dining rooms, and blaming a worker shortage for the decision. "Our team members are exhausted and there is no relief for them in our roster." (Fox 5 NY)

  • A California tourist has sued a Lake Tahoe, Nevada, condo management company over the shock he received when a scavenging bear popped out of a Dumpster when he went to toss away trash. (BBC)

  • The Swedish government has to return $1.6 million in bitcoin to a convicted drug dealer. Basically, he had to pay a fine calculated in Swedish kronor, which has appreciated only marginally while he’s been in jail, but the bitcoin the government actually seized from him has gone up about 1,200%. “The lesson to be learned from this is to keep the value in bitcoin,” said the prosecutor in the case. (The Telegraph)


Thanks for reading. Photo credit: Pixabay. I wrote about some of this before at Inc.com. Want to see all my mistakes? Click here.