Q: What sets apart the best decision makers you know?
A: I know a lot of experts from reading their books, but personally the best decision makers I know are certain about their values and comfortable with being uncertain about their state of knowledge. They demonstrate ethical clarity and intellectual humility. They are not the most dogmatic. Firm and flexible, they are interested in their long-term well-being and the well-being of others and are open-minded about how to achieve that. They are present, mindful, truth-seeking, slow to decide and clear about why they are making the choices they are making. They are trying to see the world clearly, and behave in ways that are consistent with their goals.
Q: What do you think is the most important thing to do before you make a decision?
A: Stop. Think. Be present. And engage the mental models and skills you’ve learned to improve your decision processes. Some of them include recognizing that you are making a decision, thinking about your values, framing and re-framing the decision, and generating multiple alternatives. Also, think about the criteria that matter to you. Get other perspectives. Ask yourself, “What are the most likely ways this can go wrong?” and think about possible unintended consequences. Consider the risks and opportunity costs. Notice if there are things about the context you can alter to increase the likelihood of a positive outcome.
Q: What do you think are the most important decision skills for young people to learn?
Agency: Decide what to think, to believe, care about, and do. Develop a strong sense of agency, locus of control, and executive function. These are more like dispositions or habits of mind, but I group them into the general category of decision skills.
Think probabilistically and manage uncertainty: We should recognize that we can only make estimates about the future, about the past, and about the current state of the world. We can’t really know. Even if someone sounds confident, they’re just making an estimate. That said, we should all be trying to improve our estimates.
Emotions matter: How you and others feel affects decisions. Emotions can either inform decisions or rule them—it’s up to you. Learn to recognize and name your emotions. Understand how they affect your thinking and behavior. Learn how to reduce their impact, how to cool down.
Recognize and Resist Biases: Our brains come with powerful evolved shortcuts, heuristics, that help us manage the enormous amount of information in our environments. However, those shortcuts come with blind spots, and biases. Learn to recognize them and understand how they may be affecting your judgment and decisions.
Practice: We recognize that to improve at something like archery, we need to practice. It’s important to note that the same is true of judgment and decision making. There are real learnable and teachable skills and they require daily practice.
Learn how to make and manage habits: Our habits are decisions on autopilot. We make our habits and eventually our habits make us.