Not all decisions are one-way doors: Life Hacks by Charles Assisi - Hindustan Times
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Not all decisions are one-way doors: Life Hacks by Charles Assisi

Nov 05, 2022 02:28 PM IST

In a world of almost-endless options, decision fatigue can eat up time and mindspace. It helps to embrace the possibility of minor regrets.

When it comes to decision-making, a surprisingly large number of people vacillate on even the most trivial questions. People deliberate over whether to buy a trinket or not; take the crowded bus or wait for the next one; get dinner from this restaurant or that one or that one.

Rosita (voiced by Reese Witherspoon) goes grocery-shopping in a still from Sing (2016). Today, even picking a flavour of jam can feel overwhelming, as a landmark marketing study found. PREMIUM
Rosita (voiced by Reese Witherspoon) goes grocery-shopping in a still from Sing (2016). Today, even picking a flavour of jam can feel overwhelming, as a landmark marketing study found.

Behavioural scientists call it “analysis-paralysis”, defined as the inability to make a decision because one is over-thinking the question. The famous Jam Experiment proves the point. In 2000, Sheena Iyengar, researcher, author of The Art of Choosing, and professor of business at Columbia Business School, and Mark Lepper, a professor of psychology at Stanford, conducted an experiment where they placed 24 different kinds of jam at a food store on certain days; on other days they placed just six kinds.

While more people flocked to the display and spent more time there when the number of jams was higher, most walked away without buying any. On the days when they had just six types on display, far more jars were sold.

The problem was decision fatigue. When the burden of choice is too great, it’s just harder to decide. In a world of almost-endless choices, we encounter this every day: on food delivery apps, streaming platforms, social-media scrolls. We’re familiar now with the ennui of scrolling endlessly, unable to decide what to watch.

So how does one decide, in a world that offers an overwhelming number of options? Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’s 2015 Letter to Shareholders offers some compelling pointers. He is known as a man who makes quick decisions. A metaphor he uses, he says, is to imagine the decisions as doors.

If decisions are doors, he writes, “Some… are consequential and irreversible or nearly irreversible – one-way doors – and these decisions must be made methodically, carefully, slowly, with great deliberation and consultation. If you walk through and don’t like what you see on the other side, you can’t get back to where you were before. We can call these Type 1 decisions.” These are the big ones: which job offer to accept; whether to pursue a promising relationship; whether to move cities or stay.

“But most decisions aren’t like that,” Bezos goes on. “(T)hey are changeable, reversible – they’re two-way doors. If you’ve made a suboptimal Type 2 decision, you don’t have to live with the consequences for that long. You can reopen the door and go back through. Type 2 decisions can and should be made quickly by high judgment individuals or small groups.”

The human being’s ardent pursuit of pleasure is what makes the small decisions harder than they need to be. Will that jam be the most delicious of the lot? Will that show really bring me joy? Bezos’s advice is a sound reminder that all one need do is shrug off that hesitation or fear of regret. Type 2 decisions are simply not worth so much of our time.

There’s a pointer Bezos has to offer on Type 1 decisions too. In his 2016 Letter to Shareholders, he speaks of what he calls the 70% rule. “Most decisions should probably be made around 70% of the information you wish you had.”

This a great tip because we will never have access to all the information or the perfect information. There will always be fuzziness to deal with. As we grow older, 70% of the information is enough to make an informed guess. Rely on experience and gut instinct to fill in the gaps. Those too are vital decision-making tools.

(The writer is co-founder at Founding Fuel & co-author of The Aadhaar Effect)

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