The Decision Process
Okay, so we've got just a couple more things to do, and we're back to our sort of life design framework, right? Where we've got the design thinking model in the center, we've talked about meaning-making, the worldview and lifeview of things, workview and lifeview, and now, we're gonna talk about the practice and discernment, particularly around choosing. How do we discern, how do we make good choices? And there's a lot of evidence, this is the sort of neuroscience part, there's a lot of evidence about choosing that we've known from looking at people's brains when they do that, and the age old question is, how do you know when you know? You know? I mean, what is it that makes a good decision, and how do you make a decision that you can really be settled with? So we have a model of decision making, and we always like models, we're kinda scientific that way. You gather and create your options, you're trying to make a good choice, you gather and create a bunch of options. We've talked abou...
t that sort of innovation and coming up with lots of ideas. You narrow those options down to the ones that are the most useful, and then you choose one, and then you agonize over whether you picked the right thing, right? You're just, like, totally anxious about, "Did I pick the right one, "or was the other one a better idea, "I don't know, what's the better idea?" That's the terrible.
I know, that seems like a bad idea.
That's a terrible way to be. In fact, the positive psychology and the brain science around this is, what you do to have a good choice is you let go, and move on. And we're gonna walk through each of these steps.
And the important part about this process is, by the way, it actually gets worse, before it gets better. Just making a good decision is not enough. You have to make a good decision well, that's what Bill's talking about, is how to make the decision well. It turns out, making a great decision badly doesn't work very well at all. Frankly, a fair to middling decision made well works much better than a great decision made badly. You have to pick the right thing, and then you gotta pick it right.
So we've talked a little bit about gathering and creating when we did the exercise where we passed the ideas around, and you built on the ideas of others. And there's many other techniques: Brainstorming, mind-mapping, things we call morphological analysis, just mashing up the traits of different things together in unique ways. So I think you're probably gonna be pretty good at generating ideas. But here's the part where, you've got lots and lots of ideas. So we've just filled that board full of Post-Its, or you filled your list with dozens and dozens of ideas, now you need that technique of choosing, narrowing it down and making a shorter list so you can choose. And this comes from some interesting work that's been done in psychology on a thing called choice overload, have you heard of this? And it was a very, very famous study called the jam study, and there was this interesting sort of setup where you go to a store, a nice grocery store, and there's a friendly lady there, and she's got a table full of jams, and you know, you come over to try some.
Designer jam week!
Yeah, you come over and you try a jam, and then you decide if you wanna buy one, right? This is the way they sell things kinda like at Costco or something. But this was a very upscale store, they had wonderful, beautiful jams. Six jams, and about, you know, two-thirds of the people stopped, and said, "That's interesting, let me taste the jam."
It was actually 40 percent, so it's 40 percent.
40 percent, and then about 20 percent bought.
Of them, and so we have about 40 percent stop, and about 13, 14 percent of those people actually buy something, so you know, a fair number of people stopped, and a reasonable number of those people actually buy something, okay.
This is a really good way to sell jams, if you've got a lot of jams in your store. Okay, two weeks later, same store, same friendly lady. 24 jams, we got jalapeño, strawberry, banana. We got, you know, all sorts of crazy flavors. 24 jams, what's your prediction? How many people come over to stop?
More people stop, or fewer people stop? More people stop?
Lots more people stop, look at this table full of jams, this must be very interesting, let me check it out!
We love options, ooh, jam, look at the jam!
We love having lots of options! (audience laughing) Nobody, almost nobody bought anything. When you have too many choices, you actually have none. A few people were able to get through this problem, but mostly by just focusing on the ones they liked. So it's actually an interesting thing, when you have too many choices, your brain goes into overload, and now, you have no choice. You get that numb feeling in your head, or you don't know what to do, and you keep going over the list again and again and again.
Who has felt stuck in front of a list of choices?
Welcome to the human condition!
Yeah, so it turns out, the number of choices you can actually hold in your head at any one time is sort of four to seven. Six is a good number, that's why they picked six. If you have more than five or six choices on your list, here's what you do: You cross out all the rest, just cross them off.
But Bill, I'm gonna cross out, what if I cross out the wrong one?
Dave, it'll be okay.
It's a really good list, I worked really hard to make my list, I can't give up number seven! It could be the right one!
That's right. (audience laughing) But here's the thing, if you have too many choices, you won't make the right choice. So you gotta get it down to five or six, and what do you do, how do you know when you've crossed off the wrong one? Well, you actually have to do it first, and here's the thing, it's what we call the pizza, Chinese food syndrome. So, a bunch of people are at work, and you go, "Hey, let's go out for lunch today! "That sounds great, do you want pizza or Chinese food?" 'Cause there's one in this corner, one in that corner. "Um, pizza or Chinese food, I don't care." "Okay, let's go get pizza."
No, no, no, no!
No I want Chinese food.
And you won't decide, until you've decided. But you'll know immediately upon deciding, that that's not the thing you want. So, trust us, if you have a list of 20 options, cross off 15 of them.
But when you said, "No, I don't care, "pizza, Chinese, whatever," you were telling the truth. You did not know that you knew that you don't want pizza today. The part of your brain that knew that was not talking to the part of you that talks. And you found out after you made the decision. This is not some kind of weird psycho thing, this is actually the way your brain works, set yourself up to win, that's what we're helping you tap into.
So you've got your list down to a manageable set, and now you choose, right? And most people will employ some kind of a rational choosing methodology, which is great, you make a pro and con list. When I was deciding whether to take a job at Microsoft, or become a professor, I had a pro and con list, and it was quite clear that taking the job at Microsoft, at twice what I was making, or doing a professor job at half of what I was making, I couldn't decide. After looking at the list for a long time, I couldn't decide. So, Dan Goleman, who's a writer and a psychologist and works on this idea of emotional intelligence, has a great video, I think it's a TED talk?
There's a Google talk and a TED talk.
There's a Google talk and a TED talk on this, and he's specifically looking at how your emotions help you make good decisions. And it's absolutely, we understand now from the brain science, that although your prefrontal cortex can make the pro and con list, and you can have a weighted average, and this idea has got an 87, and this idea's got a 74, and I think I wanna do the 87, but it doesn't feel right, something's wrong, my gut tells me the other idea's better, it's actually true. There is a part of your brain called the basal ganglia, the basal ganglia is a very early part of the brain, it exists in primates and in some reptiles as well. And it's the part of your brain that sums up, what did it feel like when I made a decision? I did this thing, I got a lot of positive response, that was a good decision. I made this other thing, oh, that didn't work out at all, I got a negative response. He calls it the wisdom center, the emotional wisdom center of the brain. It valances the decisions. He talks about a guy who was a lawyer, and he had a lesion, and they had to do an operation and accidentally cut the connection to the basal ganglia. He couldn't make any decisions. He could give all the pros and cons for everything possible, but he couldn't decide which one was better. So without emotional information, you cannot get to a good decision, and the problem with the basal ganglia, it's so early in the brain, it does not connect to the part of the brain that talks. It has no connection to the part of your brain that is talking to you right now. It is only connected to your gut. And by the way, it turns out, there are more neurons in your GI tract than are in your brain. There's a whole intelligence system in there. So when you talk about gut feelings, it's real. It's really real. And without access to that kind of information, you can't make good decisions.
And watch out here, because we're such wordy people, and such a technological world, articulation is sort of the indication of intelligence. You're smart if you can say a lot of words, that's why I talk so much, you'll think I'm smarter than I am. But, do not confuse inarticulate with unsophisticated. Okay, your unconscious form of knowing, the wisdom center of your brain that connects to the emotions, the limbic center and to the intestines, so the gut feeling is a real thing. Do not confuse that, oh, it's not particularly articulate, with, it must be stupid.
It's squishy, it's a feeling.
I hear people say things like, "You know, I wanna make a really good decision. "I don't wanna make some emotional decision. "I wanna make a good decision." There is no such thing as an unemotional decision. You know, no, I mean, clearly, bigger is better, right, so I want a bigger tumor, not a smaller tumor, 'cause bigger is better. Oh, no, you meant IPOs, oh, I'm sorry. No, the objective facts don't mean a thing. Bigger isn't better, bigger is bigger. Better is what, I don't know what better is. That's an emotional reality, that's a value-based reality. So tapping into this part of who you are, and doing it intelligently, is really a powerful tool.
And in our culture, 'cause we value speaking and rationality so much, we don't spend a lot of time developing our discernment of these feelings. Some people are very good at it, they kinda know what's a good decision, they have a sense of it. They don't need to justify it in words. But the critical thing here is that the neuroscience tells us that this part of your brain which is so important to making decisions doesn't have any ability to talk to the part that talks. So this thing that you think is yourself, that you're constantly reproducing up here, and the decision making that you're making, which is almost always predated from something that happened before, is heavily valanced by your emotional wisdom. And you can cultivate that wisdom and make yourself better. So if you combine EQ and IQ, you will make a much better decision.
Okay, so say you've gotten through the choosing part, now we gotta learn the letting go and moving on.
I don't know about you, but this was the most challenging part for me, 'cause I read all these studies, and I said, "Well, that may be true for other people, "but it's not true for me, "because I know how to make decisions, "and I can keep my options open." And this guy, Dan Gilbert, who, for some reason or another is now doing insurance commercials, but he's actually a neuroscientist at Harvard, and a really smart guy, he's been studying decision making, and he did a very interesting experiment that kinda had two interesting conclusions. You wanna talk about the experiment?
Yeah, there's one particular outcome we wanna zoom in on. So they were looking at how people make decisions, and how they feel about the decisions after the fact. He said it's "synthetic happiness", not fake happiness, but how do human beings actually create or synthesize, make happiness that lasts and really works? That's his field of interest. In one situation, they had a group of people who were evaluating, looking at four different Monet prints, four different Monet art prints, and they were to rank them one to four, and when they were done, they said, "Oh, by the way, thank you for your ranking, "that's all we want from you. "We have a whole bunch of spare copies "of the ones you called number two and number three. "You know, you can take a spare one of those home with you "if you'd like, just either one, two or three, "we don't care." And they did that just the same for one group of people, and a second group, except in the first group, they said, "By the way, be sure you pick "the one of those two that you really want, "because once you take it, we haven't got time "to deal with you anymore, just take it home, you're done, "we never wanna hear from you again, goodbye." The second group, they said, "Oh, by the way, you know, "and it's not a problem, we think we have enough spares, "you could take either one, "a number two or number three of the ones you chose, "and if you want to change your mind, "you have up to three weeks."
Come back and get another.
Just give us a call.
Yeah, get the other one.
You can flip it around, that doesn't matter. You know, you can have number three instead if you change your mind, not a problem. And then they wait a couple of weeks, well beyond the deadline, and they checked back in with the people. So all the people who picked, in fact, number two, the same number two, but took it home and they could only keep it, versus the people who picked number two and they could've brought it back but didn't, they didn't swap, so, you know, Susie took, picked number two, and kept it, and Harry picked number two and kept it, but Harry thought he couldn't change it, and Sue did, she was much less happy with her outcome than he was, the exact same result, and Dan's line is, "The reversible condition is not conducive "to the synthesis of happiness." The nagging reality that, you know, just keeping the option open because I might be dissatisfied maintains your potential dissatisfaction, and helps you be unhappy for the longest time. 'Cause getting what you want isn't what it's about. What is it?
Well, the other interesting thing in the study is when then we asked him to re-rank the stimuli, re-rank the paintings, the one I picked is much better than I thought. It's now number one, I love this painting. The other ones, they aren't so good. Nothing changed other than my sense of having made an irrevocable decision, and then living into that decision, and not looking back. So you really do have to let go of the opportunity to come back. And the nice part about this model is, if you learn to think like a designer, if you lead with curiosity, and you're really flexible at reframing problems and coming up with lots of options, there's no problem in picking something and letting go of the other things.
Option preservation is not a problem.
It's not a problem.
We'll get more, we'll just make up more ideas.
'Cause I'll move from this point to the next thing, and then something interesting will happen, and I'll have this wonderful interview with you, and I'll then discover that something completely different than I thought, and then I'll go to the next thing, and if that turns out to not work, I can go back to brainstorming and generating more options. So there's no penalty for, you know, it's land the boats, burn the boats, and just move into the new territory.
Don't keep your options open!
Don't keep your options open, what are you keeping it open for, anyway? What's an option become when it grows up? It becomes a decision, that's why you had it. Now, I've decided, all the other options are now done, I've moved into this next world, where a whole bunch of new things are gonna happen, and that's gonna be so exciting and so interesting that I'm not afraid of making my choices irreversible.
"Gee, Dave, are you sure you did the right thing? "What if you'd stayed at Cal? "I mean, it's a much bigger institution. "You know, are you really sure "you did the right thing at Stanford?" My answer to that question is, I don't know what you're talking about, I never think about it. I'm at Stanford, we're having a great time. That was then, this is now. I'm much happier than if I'm worrying about, did I do the right thing. By the way, if you are worried about if you did the right thing, you will never know, anyway. So all you get is your worry, and no answer. If that's working for you, stick with it.