When it comes to making good choices, we all want to know the facts before we decide. The sheer amount of information available out there, however, often makes it harder to do so, and our brain’s own hard-wired responses to data can often work against us.
Issue one : We have too much information readily available.
We are overwhelmed with information we are simply not physiologically equipped to handle fully, or well, in such large volumes.
Goals: Cut down on the volume of information, and go for relevance, quality and timeliness.
Issue two: Our brain’s pattern-recognition functions often makes for unconscious bias that can lead to faulty assumptions.
Goals: Recognize and be aware of your own personal biases so you can make checks and balances for them in the decision-making process. This means practicing an internal system that pushes for clarity, relevance and timeliness in decision making.
Dealing with this two-fold problem means approaching the problem from two fronts. One, devise means and ways to cut down and filter the data you need to make decisions, and two, recognize how you can be fooled by unconscious biases and have strategies in place to get make sure you stay on track, on target, and on time.
Now, being good in business can be attributed to a myriad number of factors, chief among them, timing, risk-taking, fore-sight, and sometimes, sheer luck. The pressure is always present to make the best choice for the next step, and that means looking at the information needed to take the next step. You want to make good choices, you’ll need information.
With the internet, however, we run into problems of scale and and of understanding.
As mentioned before, we have oceans of data available — just a few clicks away, really — but we aren’t capable of filtering though it effectively or efficiently because of the way our brains evolved. Getting good data from the internet is, as many have put it, “like trying to drink from a fire-hydrant.” There’s just too much for us to handle, and despite what we may think, we simply can’t take it all in.
Plus, our brain’s hard-wired pattern-finding function can often get overwhelmed with what information we turn up, which can make for less-than-stellar decision-making. When making choices, it’s easier to pick between two, or among a few.
Faced with dozens? We falter. Hundreds? We can shut down — or our pattern-finding function makes us see connections or patterns that aren’t there, just to fill in the blanks.
The more data we have, the harder it is to make a choice. Again, with the pattern-finding, the human brain likes to get more data to complete the picture, and unchecked research just sends us down the rabbit hole. Plus, research can stimulates our brain’s rewards center because it makes us feel we’re doing good work in getting all we need to make a good choice.
To the brain, data-gathering is like food-gathering: the more you get, the better — and you can’t ever get enough. One consequence is getting bogged down in research and unnecessarily delaying or waiting on decisions because we want to make absolutely sure we got it right.
The additional problematic factors:
1) We can assign weights to information that isn’t really valuable or relevant to the decision-making process, the desired result, or the over-arching plan. In this sense, we can miss the forest for the leaves.
2) Struggling with indecision saps at our will power — which is a finite resource. When we’re running low, it could make for some hurried choices that could backfire.
3) We often get time-locked or pressured into thinking a particular decision carries more influence that it really does, and so we stay on it longer that we should have.
Solution: When you have too much, you cut things down to a manageable number, and you can do this in the following ways.
Be choosy. On small, lightweight decisions, you can flip a coin, if that’s your thing, or stay with your old tried-and-trues. On decisions that carry more weight and impact on your life — the next step to take in your business, weighing and assessing pros and cons, etc. — center yourself and raise strong boundaries around yourself so you can focus.
- Being picky shields you from tempting-but-not-quite-what-you-want, and saves you willpower.
- Cutting things down to a few choices helps you decide better.
- Filtering data down to what you most need to know about helps you get a more relevant assessment of the bigger picture.
- Boundaries help you devote yourself, mentally, physically, emotionally, etc. into assessing your situation and what you can do to change it for the better, when faced with options.
Lock down your sources of information.
Are they trustworthy and utterly reliable? Can you depend on them for honest, unskewed data, feedback or experienced analysis?
Can you access these sources when you need them? How about in advance? Look at your own experience and self-knowledge as well. You should know what you’re capable of and what you’re willing to accept , results-wise, as the consequence of your big choices.
Strip the noise from the signal. Make it easier to move with information you can trust, you can get fast, and is relevant to your goals.
When it comes to making important choices, take note: It isn’t just too MUCH information, it’s also getting enough RELEVANT information.
Too much anything makes for clutter — a cluttered desk, a cluttered house, a cluttered mind. Just as you’d have difficulty navigating a cluttered house or finding what you need on a cluttered desk, you’ll have problems when you have an over-full mind.Screen for relevance.
To filter out ‘too much’ of anything, put a system in place to keep and maintain order. Filters are not just for email, although they’re very, very good for that too. A filter is whatever you can use to screen unwanted things out, so email filters, a well-thought-out schedule, solid blocks of time for deep work, etc. can help you with that.
In a business, delegation helps, whether in-house or out-sourced, once you’ve gotten good people and give them the training they need, trust them to know their responsibilities and carry those out well. Delegating acts as a filter in that it helps you release lesser value issues to people who can fully focus on them, freeing you to concentrate on high-value actions.
Writing things out long-hand also helps to draw connections in your mind: the mind and body working in tandem can help free your focus and help connect the dots, or form a picture from seemingly unconnected information.
Mindmapping can help with predicting chain reactions and probable results, as well as foresee different results stemming from different opinions. An option that doesn’t make sense to execute right now can be held in reserve for when the timing is more opportune.
Assess things in terms of impact and reach. Will this choice, bring the business forward or onward? What will this mean in terms of the direction you want to go, and the goals you want to attain in today, or in a month, or a quarter? How about 2-3 years from now? How about 3-5, or 10?
Don’t get bogged down by inconsequential details – clarify what matters and focus around the core of your work, building support around that. When you come from that, you have the firm foundations on which to make and execute good decisions. Work with the best information you have in the time that you have it, and act.
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