The Problem with Me – Personal Decision Bias

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The problem with decision analysis is ME.

Despite the mountain of data suggesting that one option is highly desirable I have a strong tendency to choose the option that most appeals to me. At the heart of the question of how we use data to drive and inform good decisions is the question of why is it that we as people ignored data when making decisions?

Here are four reasons why people (including myself) ignore data

  • People have a personal bias
  • People do not understand the data
  • People know data is only part of the decison
  • Finally, People simply do not care

What you ask me? Why would anyone choose to pursue something that they know is a bad decision simply because they don’t care? Why would they not care? Let me try to put this in the context of everyday decisions that we all typically make.

Here are decisions that we make every day where we ignore the data that provides us with an ideal option.

Should I use this credit?

– Should I have that third glass of wine?

– Should I save for retirement?

– Should I send that text message?

Ask yourself, have I ever sent or received a text while driving my car?

Two things about each of the decisions that I’ve highlighted above are similar. First, they are decisions where there is a short term benefit, but a long term cost. Second, they are all individual decisions.

While the first similarity is important and worthy of it’s own post, for now I am thinking on the second, personal decision bias.

In isolation I wonder if we are more likely to fall prey to our desires then to what is logically ideal? If people’s credit card debt were posted publically, would credit card debt drop?

In groups is there something about peer pressure that actually encourages us to be more logical than when we act as individuals?

In a public realm people want to appear logical. People do not want to expose their illogical weaknesses or desires. Internally we are all often inconsistent but externally we all want to appear as if we are consistent.

This makes me wonder if it is ideal to avoid presenting decisions to individuals and to bias towards presenting key decisions that are fact-based or data-driven to a group under the hope that the group will pay more attention to the underlying logic than if the decision is presented to a specific individual.

I would suggest that, due to personal decision bias, a structured data driven decision process for groups may yield better results than the structured data driven process of an individual.

Here are three questions to ask yourself to determine when to engage peers in a structured decision process.

1- Am I comfortable announcing this decision once it is made?

2- Is this a decision that need to be made immediately?

3- Am I the only person who has knowledge relevant to this decision?

If the answer to all these questions is “no” then I would strongly encourage you to get a group of trusted peers together to map and make important decisions.


About Brian

Innovation & Strategy Specialist; Focus on Innovation Roadmapping & Business Modeling; Husband, Father, Systems Thinker, Babson MBA, Triathlete. View all posts by Brian →

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