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Making Smarter Decisions

How to make smarter decisions when you don’t have all the facts (which is nearly all the time)

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Annie Duke, a professional gambler, has written an intriguing book,  Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don’t Have All The Facts. The text is great; I took a lot of notes and saved many excerpts:

Life choices we make are bets on a specific path, as distinct from a range of potential alternative futures. Job and relocation decisions are bets. Sales negotiations and contracts are bets. Buying a house is a bet. Ordering the chicken instead of the steak is a bet. Everything is a bet.

Ask someone, “Want to bet?” when they claim something to be true. It puts them in a different place than when they simply state what they believed to be true. Thinking in Bets can help us reshape our approach to the world, and improve all aspects of decision-making in our lives.

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Overview

We humans are disastrously biased in our decision making. We fool ourselves into believing our beliefs whether they are worthy of our trust of not. Our biases systematically impede our decision-making.

Most people don’t actually think through their beliefs. They hear something from a source they hold in high esteem and then maintain that belief. Recognize when you’re in an “echo-chamber” where only viewpoints you’re currently comfortable with are expressed.

We are quick to form beliefs, tend towards absolutes (this is right, that is wrong), and indulge in “motivated reasoning,” seeking out confirmation while ignoring contradictory evidence. Believing is easy; we are wired to believe

Our beliefs impact how we view the world, then how we act, and how we plan for the future. We are loath to update our beliefs, especially when a change would be a challenge to our self-narrative. Our decision-making is only as good as the accuracy of our beliefs, which are hopelessly biased and often wrong.

Because our beliefs are based on past experiences and inputs, it is wise to be purposeful about the inputs and experiences that we have going forward as that will guide our future selves.

“Resulting”

We judge decisions based on how they turn out, known as “resulting,” in which we believe results indicate the quality of our decision: If we succeeded it was a good decision, but if we failed, it was a bad decision.

We guard our self-image via “self-serving bias,” which distorts our view of the world: We take credit for all good outcomes and blame bad luck for all bad outcomes, even when the truth is often shaded in grey.

Resulting ignores the role of luck. When a desired outcome doesn’t occur, it does not always mean it was a poor choice. It could have been bad luck. This insight moves us away from right-wrong thinking, and towards a probabilistic approach to interpreting outcomes, like betting in poker.

So, assess decisions on the basis of how they were made, not how they turned out You can win with a poor decision and lose with a good one. In the long run, it’s the decision-making process that counts.

Stop thinking in certainties and recognize probabilities, and avoid imagining situations as either-or. Most things lie along continuums.

Taking Action

Embrace uncertainty, by thinking in bets. Calibrate your confidence on a more granular level. Rather than say, “I know X with 100% certainty,” express a lesser confidence of, say, 65%. Calibrating preserves our self-narrative if we happen to be wrong, and it also makes us more credible.

Assess outcomes after the fact, through “outcome fielding.” Was an outcome driven by luck or skill, and in what combination? After winning a high profile tournament, for example, a poker player was focused not on basking in glory, but on de-constructing his play, and what he could have done better.

Practice tough love in the service of “truth-seeking.” No whining about how bad luck hurt us. No patting ourselves on the backs. Truth-seeking requires a special kind of contract with yourself.

Listen to arguments from all sides to get a clearer picture of the truth. Observe the world around you and learn from the choices that other people make by observing.

Create a group of individuals who can provide us with feedback on our weaknesses and blind spots. Focus on accuracy, accountability, and openness to diverse views. Court dissent and differing points of view, and take responsibility even when doing so is painful.

Strength in the Moment

We tend to act based on how we are affected right now, rather than how we will feel later. When we reach for that doughnut, rather than for a healthy apple, we’re doing so at the expense of our future self. Employ the 10-10-10 process: what are the consequences of each of my options in 10 minutes? 10 months? 10 years?

Finally, exercise caution after a streak of positive or negative outcomes to avoid becoming emotionally charged in a way that prevents us from thinking clearly.

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Jeff Davidson is the world's only holder of the title "The Work-Life Balance Expert®" as awarded by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. He is the premier thought leader on work-life balance, integration, and harmony. Jeff speaks to organizations that seek to enhance their overall productivity by improving the effectiveness of their people. He is the author of Breathing Space, Simpler Living, Dial it Down, and Everyday Project Management. Visit www.BreathingSpace.com for more information on Jeff's keynote speeches and seminars, including: Managing the Pace with Grace® * Achieving Work-Life Balance™ * Managing Information and Communication Overload®



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Business

Delegation: An Ongoing Phenomena

Failure to delegate effectively often happens because team leader don’t trust the people with whom they’re working

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For most of your career, you’ve read or heard that one of the key approaches to getting things done is to delegate effectively. This presumes that you have others to whom you can delegate. In my contact with more than 950 organizations over the last two and a half decades, I’ve found increasingly that people have fewer resources, a lower budget, and less staff people. If they want to get something done, often they have to do it themselves!

Assuming you have others to whom you can delegate, the first or second time you personally tackle a particular task yields useful information. You learn more about the nature of the task, how long it takes, and whether or not you enjoy doing it.

By the third time, a task of the same ilk as those you’ve handled before often becomes best handled by someone reporting to you. Such tasks could involve updating a database, completing an interim report, or assembling meeting notes.

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All that You Can

On the path to getting things done, your quest is to identify all those things that you can possibly delegate to others and then prepare those others so that they have a high probability of succeeding. In the course of your workday there may be only a handful of things that you alone need to do because of your experience, insight or specialized knowledge. Everything else that can be delegated should be.

Some people feel they have to take care of everything themselves and to this day haven’t been able to break the habit of “doing it all.” If this someone is in your seat right now, recognize that as a category of one, you can only get so much done.

Many managers and supervisors fail to delegate effectively because either they don’t fully trust the people with whom they’re working, or they’ve always been get-it-all-done-by-myself types.

Take Time before You Assign

Prior to delegating anything to anyone, take the time to actually prepare your staff for delegation. This would involve assessing an employee’s skills, interests, and needs. You could even ask people what new tasks and responsibilities they would like to assume. You might be surprised at the wide variety of responses you receive. There may be people on your staff right now who can help you with tasks you’ve been dying to hand off to someone but didn’t see how or when you could put them into play.

While you want to delegate to staff people who show enthusiasm, initiative and interest, or have otherwise previously demonstrated the ability to handle and balance several tasks at once, sometimes you have to delegate to someone who has not exhibited any of the above. In that case, delegate on a piece-meal basis.

Ensure that the staff person is able to effectively handle the small task or tasks he’s been assigned and does not feel swamped or overloaded. When the staff person demonstrates competence, you can increase the complexity of assignments and even the frequency with which you delegate.

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Business

Multi-tasking: More Harm than Good

In this day and age, where so much competes for our attention, it is easy to stray!

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I belong to a local health club, and while I was there one day, I saw a woman get on the Stairmaster. I watched as she whipped out an mp3 player and started listening to music. Then, to my surprise, she reached into her gym bag, pulled out a book, and placed it on that ledge to read. I almost asked her if she would like a piece of gum!

Today, when so much competes for our attention, it is easy to stray! More often than we care to pretend, in the office and at home, we invite more than we can handle, and then act as though we didn’t. As individuals, throughout society, we are trained to believe that the ability to multi-task is a great attribute. Unfortunately, that’s a big mistake. Here’s why, and how to avoid multi-tasking in the future.

First Things First

What’s the fastest and easiest way to handle six tasks competing for our attention? Identify the most important task, second most important, third most important, and so on, then tackle the first and finish it all the way, move on to the second and complete it, then move all the way down the list.

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Any other way of tackling those items, whether they are tasks for home or work, is simply not as efficient. The catch is, any other way is more psychologically satisfying.  Why?  It’s almost as if juggling projects, switching gears unnecessarily or abruptly, or leaving a job unfinished to start a new project gives you the opportunity to say to other people, “Hey, look at me! Look how involved I am! Look at how busy I am! I’m great at multi-tasking.” A multi-tasker, however, can’t compete with others who tackle their to-do list, one item at a time.

What about doubling up as a procedure for tackling a number of routine items or very simple tasks? You can eat dinner and read a book at the same time. Eating and reading at the same time is relatively harmless.

How about driving and talking on the cell phone at the same time? Driving requires your sharp attention, as does carrying on an intelligent conversation with someone else who is not present; doing both at the same time spreads your attention too thin, with often disastrous results. The same is true for projects you’re working on that require your best thinking.

Tips:
* give yourself 5 to 10 minute intervals to focus on the task at hand
* safe-guard your immediate environment to avoid interruptions
* acknowledge yourself whenever you stick to one task and finish it
* repeat all the above, often, knowing that ‘more often’ is better!

Your Undivided Attention

When you’re working on a new task, brainstorming, engaging in first-time thinking, or doing creative work, it’s vital to offer your complete and undivided attention to that one task before you. To dissipate your attention or otherwise stray means you are not going to do your best work.

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