Data, Decision Making and Choices

What an amazing world it would be if the moment I woke up in the morning I could quickly drink 210ml of water to precisely replace the fluids I’d lost through respiration during the night, could then imbibe in 125 milligrams of caffeine which is what is precisely what I need for my morning jolt and after I’d tucked into a breakfast that provided me with the precise amount of carbohydrates, fiber and protein I need to get through to lunchtime, I’d make a decision or two about something important based upon binary choices each of which could be precisely weighed against achieving or not achieving the outcomes I need.

It is, of course, a pipedream and maybe, a nightmare. While machines are quite capable of making very precise decisions based upon massive amounts of data they are constrained by the cleanliness of the source they feed from. Humans too, though better at dealing with ‘noise’ in the data we absorb, are prone to specific biases that arise from it.

This is a post, of course, about decision making and outcomes. More specifically why sometimes the wrong decision brings about the right outcome and vice versa and how that goes on to affect how we perceive decision making in both life and business contexts.

If every good decision was an instant success we’d be forgiven in thinking that really all we need to do each time we decide on something is to apply the correct formula. But that is not how the world works and really a decision is just that: an assumption we make about how the world works and a vote of confidence in the quality of our understanding of it.

Here are two truths that arise out of this: first, the world is a complex system and everything in it, our selves included, is part of this complexity. Second, we rarely (if ever) have the confidence required in ourselves to make the right decision with the exception of specialized activities and severely bounded settings.

When we lack the cognitive resources to deal with all the data that comes our way because our natural bandwidth is finite and determined by our neurobiology the mental heuristics we develop in order to make better decisions are determined by the mental discipline we develop and the process we learn to apply.

As we move deeper into the 21st century we shall have more and more data, not less. Unless we learn how to deal with it it will overwhelm us. Data that exists without being subject to analysis is of the same value as lack of data. “Luck” and “serendipity” - then appear to have magical qualities, be beyond our ability to affect and guided by fate.

In truth our life is our own. Our fate is engineered by our decisions. Factors we do not control can still be affected by how we deal with them. What we do counts provided we understand what we do.

You didn’t get coffee by accident today. You understand its ability to wake up the brain, energize the body and augment clarity in cognitive processes. You did not get donuts and cookies, croissants and chocolate cake without factoring in the instant boost sugar gives to the brain’s cognitive processes. Have an awesome Sunday wherever you are.

Sunday Read RSS Feed