Business Brains

‘Snap’ decisions may be just as effective as well-informed decisions (2)

Posting in Technology

More research has emerged that further suggests that snap decision-making beats sweat-the-details-and-analyze-every-angle decision making

Snap, crackle, decide...

A few weeks back, I talked about observations Malcolm Gladwell made in Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, which suggests that snap decision-making may be just as spot-on, or even more so, than decisions based on piles of data. Sometimes having too much information results in “paralysis by analysis.”

Well, some more research has emerged that further suggests that snap decision-making beats sweat-the-details-and-analyze-every-angle decision making. Cory Doctorow provides a synopsis of Jonah Lehrer's latest work, How We Decide, in which he concludes that having too much information -- whether before it is made or via introspection after the fact -- clutters our decision-making abilities. He cites a fascinating experiment:

"In an experiment with MIT business students, one group is given extremely detailed reports on companies and asked to buy and sell their stocks based on what they learn. Another group is just given the stock-prices. The latter group -- betting blind -- bets better than the 'overinformed' group, who have so much information that they can't decide what is and isn't important. The same thing happens to guidance counselors who are given detailed dossiers on students and asked to predict their academic performance -- they do worse at predicting performance than counselors who are just given student transcripts."

Of course, snap decisions don't happen in a vacuum, and they are subject to enormous second-guessing. And, interestingly, Lehrer concludes that good decisions need to be based just as much on emotion as they are on rational thinking.  As Doctorow summarizes, Lehrer came to a surprising and compelling conclusion:

"People who experience damage to the parts of their brain responsible for emotional reactions are unable to decide, because their rational mind dithers endlessly over the possible rational reasons for each course of action. The Platonic ideal of a rational being making decisions without recourse to the wordless gut-instinct is revealed as a helpless schmuck who can't answer questions as basic as 'White or brown toast?'"

So the conclusion is that it's "okay" to let some emotion into decision making, even when the decision lends itself purely to rational thinking. Doctorow and Lehrer suggest good decision-making requires a little of both.

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Joe McKendrick

Contributing Editor

Joe McKendrick is an independent analyst who tracks the impact of information technology on management and markets. He is a co-author of the SOA Manifesto and has written for Forbes, ZDNet and Database Trends & Applications. He holds a degree from Temple University. He is based in Pennsylvania. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure