by Cheryl Strauss Einhorn, author of “Problem Solved: A Powerful System for Making Complex Decisions with Confidence and Conviction“
We all grow up to be decision makers. Yet somehow there’s no well-established way to make high-stakes decisions well. But it can be messy and overwhelming to figure out how to solve thorny problems. Where do you start? How do you know where to look for information and evaluate its quality and bias? How can you feel confident that you’re making a careful and thoroughly researched decision?
Whether you’re deciding between colleges, navigating a career decision, helping your aging parents find the right housing, or expanding your business, when complex problems come into your life it’s useful to know how to deal with uncertainty in a way that boosts your confidence and that gives you conviction that the path you choose may be a successful one.
So here’s some tips to help you work with – and through – ambiguity from my decision-making system called the AREA Method, an acronym that gets its name from the perspectives it addresses. At its core, AREA as a process can be boiled down to four simple steps that you can use immediately to help you make smarter, better decisions when you’re facing a complex problem that you need to solve:
- Recognize that research is a fundamental part of decision making.
- Recognize that we are all flawed thinkers and fall prey to relying upon assumption, bias, and judgments that may help us make many small decisions well, but can impede clear thinking when making big ones.
- Address the critical component of timing head-on so that we don’t make rushed decisions, but instead have time for calculated and strategic stops in our work to promote insight.
- Use a clear, concise, and repeatable decision-making process that works as a feedback loop in part or in its entirety.
1. Recognize that research is a fundamental part of decision making.
In reality, your ability to make a thoughtful decision is dependent upon the quality of the information you have. Therefore you need a good research process to be an integral part of a decision- making framework. But keep in mind: Research is an umbrella term for a whole series of tricky steps that need to be carefully navigated and thoughtfully completed. Break down your research so it’s manageable and organized.
2. Be aware that we are all flawed thinkers.
Much has been written lately about how we are all prey to mental mistakes. Behavioral science research and books like Robert Cialdini’s “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion“, and Daniel Kahneman’s “Thinking, Fast and Slow“ explain that we rely on faulty intuition and are swayed by authority and public sentiment. This new research explores the many ways that we allow biases, snap judgments and assumptions to drive our decision making. Having a heightened awareness that we don’t see the world as it is, but that rather we see it aswe are can help prevent mistakes.
3. Address the critical component of timing by resisting rushing to judgment.
High-stakes decisions deserve time and attention, but often we’re in such a rush to reach a conclusion that we never really take the time for deep reflection. We’re already over-programmed, answering emails late at night and waking to urgent texts. We struggle with the need to react when we also need to really think.
We all need a way to have a check and balance for bias, and that’s why a thoughtful process like the AREA Method focuses on alerting you to disconfirming data. The idea is that when it comes to making big decisions we deserve the time needed for thoughtful reflection as well as tools for examining both our data and our thinking. Insight doesn’t come from collecting information alone; it comes from brainwork, so slow down and think about the meaning behind the information you are gathering and the work you are doing.
4. Recognize that good decision making needs a repeatable process that works as a feedback loop.
Not all investigations are linear, nor should they be. At times you need to be driven back into earlier steps to do more work, collect more data, or conduct more analysis.
We can’t control our luck, but we can control our process and, in doing so, make smarter, better decisions.
Cheryl Strauss Einhorn is the creator of the AREA Method, a decision making system for individuals and companies to solve complex problems. Cheryl is the founder of CSE Consulting and the author of the upcoming book “Problem Solved: A Powerful System for Making Complex Decisions with Confidence and Conviction“. Cheryl teaches at Columbia Business School as an adjunct professor and has won several journalism awards for her investigative stories about international political, business and economic topics.