More information automatically leads to better decisions
The more I know about something the better I can weigh my decisions: instead of having to guess and assume, with enough information I can simply reason my way to the best decision. With all the information at my disposal I will always make the right decision.
But is this true for all decisions? When there is only one choice, the decision is obvious. When there are two options, one of the two usually stands out as the better choice. When there are five choices, however, making a decision becomes difficult and I need information to work out what is best. When there are dozens of choices, the decision is complicated, and I need a lot of information to work things out. When there are a hundred choices or more, the choice is now complex, and even a single new bit of information can completely change the outcome. What exactly is the best decision when the outcome changes with every new bit of information and the information available is never complete?
Is the constant demand for more information an example of believing you can never have enough of a good thing? Sure, without any information at all, your guess is as good as mine – or as random. So a bit of information can be helpful. But piling up information from different sources, of varying quality, of variable levels of relevance, does that clarify things for us, or does it merely confuse us?
Maybe we need to come to terms with the limits of our decision-making abilities, and the limits of what information can do to improve them? Maybe we live in a world that is too complex to fully fathom and all we can hope for is on average to get things more ‘right’ than ‘wrong’, trusting that we have more than just our rational thought processes to guide us; and trusting that in a complex, highly dynamic, and never fully understood reality even our ‘wrong’ decisions can be portals of discovery leading to completely new and unimagined opportunities?
6 thoughts on “100 Questionable Assumptions – 5”
In this ever changing playing field called life. You never know zero point. You can never make a mistake just new choices.
Totally agree, Evie. The only mistake we can make is failing to learn from our choices.
An assumption worth thinking about. We’re being constantly challenged to make more and more complex decisions – often without any training, or understanding of decision criteria.
I bought a TV recently – the first time for more than 10 years. They are SO much more than simple screens with analogue receivers now – we even have to think of the operating system of the TV. And I’m supposed to know something about tech. I even built a decision matrix on all the features (thanks Kepner-Tregoe!). Do I think I got the best TV for me? I don’t know! I hope so.
Did more information help me? Once I had done some work on the outcome I wanted, I was able to collect more, relevant, information around the outcome.
So perhaps to make this less of an assumption would be “More relevant information leads to better decision making”. So what is relevant? Mmmm, maybe there is a different assumption here.
Thanks for your comment, Alan, and great to hear from you.
I think the concept of ‘relevance’ itself needs more than one assumption to be explored to be fully understood. For instance: can we assess the relevance of information before we make the decision, or only afterward, when we see the outcome of our decision and how we got there. Would the outcome be different if we had not had that information? Could we have reached a different outcome even if we did have that same information?
Knowledge is said to be information that makes a difference. Maybe we have too much information, but never enough knowledge?
This is a fascinating topic Bard, and I’m glad you raised it. I’ve spent a reasonable amount of time helping companies to use decisioning models so that they not only work their way through complex decisions, but also understand why they made the decisions they did. Over time, this might lead to better decision making skills, but I guess we’ll just have to wait and see. Two things I’ve noticed:
1. People are not very good at identifying the criteria they will use to make the decision.
2. The lack of formal decision making techniques used in business seems to parallel a lack of experience using formal decision models in people’s personal lives (where they are equally applicable).
Thanks for your comment, Darryl. Isn’t it interesting that people worry a lot about the decisions they have to make, yet seldom make the effort to learn how to get better at making them? Myself included, by the way. I regularly look back at past decisions, thinking “I could have done better”. But then the next decision looms and I feel myself slipping into the same mindset I used for those previous ones.
I guess old habits die hard.
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