How do I make more rational decisions? 4 Steps

Rational decision-making forms a big part of getting our projects completed. Today’s Q&A Monday asks:

“Are there any useful strategies to help in decision-making?”
Anonymous (via Quora)

In the book “Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work”, authors Chip and Dan Heath describe a four-step process for decision-making which they summarize with the acronym “WRAP”. The premise behind the decision process is that as humans we have illogical biases to overcome.

The very common pros and cons approach reveals our biases as we tend to self-select a limited set of options. Psychologists note that humans tend to look for confirmation for our untested believes. We rely on short-term emotions to make choices. We’re overconfident about our ability to make predictions for the future.

W – Widen your options.

Humans tend to present ourselves with decisions as one option versus another: Do we try to make our current job work or find a new job? The last choice would most likely include parts of both options:

“The universe has no fixed agenda. Once you make any decision, it works around that decision. There is no right or wrong, only a series of possibilities that shift with each thought, feeling, and action that you experience.” Deepak Chopra, The Book of Secrets: Unlocking the Hidden Dimensions of Your Life

For example, if we’re having problems at work, consider fully discussing concerns with managers and coworkers. Continue to test new problem-solving strategies. At the same time, it could still be wise to look into other opportunities. The discussions at your current job both help in your work life and tell the questions and criteria for your search. If a concrete offer for a new job becomes a certain reality, then you’re making decisions with more evidence to know how each role meets your needs.

How the framing effect influences decisions

The fraA field experiment by the University of Nottingham demonstrated narrow framing:ming effect is a mental process where conclusions are illogically drawn based on how choices are presented. A field experiment by the University of Nottingham demonstrated narrow framing showing that 93% of Ph.D. students registered early when an informed of a penalty fee for late registration. Only 67% registered early when identical pricing was presented as a discount.

An experiment published in the Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization found that support for an economic policy was greater when presenting the numbers for the employment rate is emphasized. Giving the related unemployment rates garnered much less support. This is a common tactic used in politics to influence public opinion while not presenting the reality potential outcomes.

How opportunity costs limits our options

To counter the framing effect and force ourselves to consider more options, we can explore the opportunity costs involved. What actions would, in fact, rule out other choices? If you must decide between:

  • Choice A: A friend’s party
  • Choice B: A movie on the same night with another friend

What would be the impact of each decision on your mood, friendships, and budget? Have you already accepted one invite, if so what would be the impact of a change of plans?

“In economics, one of the most important concepts is ‘opportunity cost’ – the idea that once you spend your money on something, you can’t spend it again on something else.” Malcolm Turnbull

In the book Decisive, the authors recommend adding the possibility for both actions. Rather than choices “A OR B”, are both “A AND B” possible? Could you bring your movie-loving friend to the party and/or ask to see the movie on a night when you don’t have an accepted invitation?

R – Reality test your assumptions.

Consider the opposite of your ideas and guesses as potentially valid. Is there evidence that contradicts your current thoughts on probable outcomes?

Overcoming confirmation bias

“When we hear news we should always wait for the sacrament of confirmation.” Voltaire

Confirmation bias is a common reasoning error. Experiments have shown that people search for evidence consistent with their current beliefs and predictions. The term “confirmation bias” was coined by English psychologist Peter Wason whose simple experiment in the 1960s showed that people tend to try to confirm their first ideas and not disprove them:

Given the sequence of “2-4-6”, participants would guess that the pattern was even numbers. Then they tried to test this rule by proposing more even numbers such as “4-8-10”, “6-8-12”, “20-22-24”. Researchers would confirm that these all fit the pattern at which point participants would stop their attempts, satisfied that they had found the correct answer.

However the answer was not even numbers, it simply increasing numbers. Participants tended not to try odd numbers to disprove their first guess.

Take action in small steps

With confirmation bias in mind, take small steps giving more evidence toward one outcome or another. If you believe a person you’re dating is not reliable, for example, you might ask to commit to plans. Look for evidence that they are able to be relied on.

The next small step resulting from their response may be further discussion of the pattern of behavior. During this talk, you could look for evidence that they attempt to be more reliable.

“Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together.” Vincent van Gogh

If you contradict your first guess, you may decide this someone you can easily spend time with and continue to date. Or you may find more anecdotes showing unreliability, which helps you decide relationship styles are incompatible. Taking small steps gives you more confidence in your final decision.

A – Attain distance before deciding.

In dealing with short-term emotions, it’s helpful to explore various perspectives. Our emotions impact us in unpredictable and irrational ways. Psychologists tested the tendency to perceive new events consistently with the involved emotions. They found fearful participants predict negative outcomes and when angry they presume positive ones.

“You can’t make decisions based on fear and the possibility of what might happen.” Michelle Obama

Writers Chip and Dan Heath recommend asking “How would you feel about this decision in 10 minutes? 10 days? 10 years?” If you were not involved, what advice would you give? In the short-term, it might feel great to eat a bag of chips or skip that trip to the gym. By attaining distance and thinking about how we might feel in the future, it becomes a lot easier to act.

Identify your priorities

A decision often becomes emotionally difficult as we feel the conflict between various priorities. By identifying your distinct preferences, you’ll often be able to more clearly see. You’ll have a more clear idea of your best answer for your situation.

Is your long-term priority better health? Compared this to your short-term priority of instant gratification. You might decide to eat a balanced meal skipping the fast food ultimately feels more satisfying.

P – Prepare to be wrong.

In preparing to be wrong, we acknowledge and take steps toward various likely outcomes. The overconfidence effect is a natural human bias. We tend to view our own actions as more certain to guarantee outcomes. More so than is likely or possible. We believe that we are more certain to know the truth than we really do.

In fact, the results of our decisions likely fall within a wide range. Some factors and events could not be predicted. Other possible outcomes that we could have predicted, we did not. Perfect decisions that give us perfect control are the least likely possibility.

Set a wide target

An example of overconfidence is demonstrated in the planning fallacy, first proposed by Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky. The planning fallacy is the tendency to guess a task takes less time than it likely will.

One 1997 survey of Canadian taxpayers showed that participants mailed taxes about a week later than they predicted. Even as those surveyed reported in the past that they mailed forms later than planned, they still estimated that would get it done earlier in the future.

A wide target is easier to predict. If these taxpayers guess that they’d mail their taxes sometime within the next year, they’d be more likely to be correct. Compared to if they guess that within the next week they’d complete the task.

Set a tripwire

Prepare to revisit your decision by setting triggers. If X happens, at that point revisit your decisions. If you were investing or gambling, you might be comfortable with losing 10% of your money. Once you’ve lost 11%, it’s time to decide if this it’s wise to continue with your current strategy or test something new.

Be ready for positive outcomes too. If the person we were dating in the earlier example on reality testing does become a reliable planner, what does this mean for the relationship?

Build a safety net

Since things happen that are hard to predict, it’s smart to prepare for the unexpected. For example, financial experts recommend emergency funds even as they discuss tracking spending and creating plans for how to pay your bills.

No plan is perfect. We often can’t predict what we’d need to use our savings for. We can guess that an unexpected event will happen. Many situations would be easier and less stressful if we have extra money available for it.

Next time you’re deciding to take that expensive vacation or buy a fancy dinner, consider a 2012 study cited by Vanguard that found that those surveyed had: unpaid medical bills (26%), overdrew their checking account (22%), took a loan from their retirement account (14%), took a hardship withdrawal from their retirement account (10%), had more than one late mortgage payment (13%), and filed for bankruptcy (3.5%). If you think this can’t happen to you, re-read the section on overconfidence. Then start to act and start your safety net.

Readers, what strategies have helped you make better decisions? Share below in the comments!

 

UC-Blog-Feature-Image-Decisions

Brian E. Young is a graphic designer and artist in Baltimore, MD.

How do you bridge the gap between creativity and business?

We asked in our recent survey, how can you fill the gap between creativity and business?  When I try and come up with my own answer to this question, I look at my work as an editorial designer.  I’m the kind of person who tries to push boundaries and try to make something as close to art as I can get in a commercial environment. The business side takes over when it comes to selling my concepts and convincing others that people will “get it”. That’s the thing a lot of people don’t get about design. Not only does it take technical skill (knowing how to use programs and understanding design and color theory), but there’s a huge sales aspect to the most successful designers.  It doesn’t matter how artistically successful your work is if no one will buy into it. You have to convince people to be on your side and practically get them out there, selling for you.

Take a look at the responses from our panel and chime in with your own advice and experiences.  If you’d like to be featured in a future blog post and share your advice, take our latest questionnaire.

  • “You bridge the gap by learning about and doing as much as possible in both aspects.”

    Tearra Marie (@AhorashiiKagome) is an inspiring singer/song writer, actress, and novelist who blogs daily her writings and struggles in the music and publishing world at AhorashiiKagome.livejournal.com

  • “Unfortunately, mortgage companies don’t accept stock options as payment. So designing interfaces that convert (into paying customers) is *the* most important thing to keep in mind.”

    Paul Singh (@paulsingh) is an entrepreneur and advisor to startups doing interesting stuff. He blogs at www.resultsjunkies.com/blog

  • “You have to be serious about the business side first. Otherwise, there will be no creative opportunities. Running your own business, you will realize you are more of a business owner than a designer, as you will begin to have more in common with business owners than with designers. This is good, since having your clients as colleagues is very beneficial.”

    Lisa C. Jackson (lisajackson.biz) is owner of a Company Identity Solopreneurship, Lisa Jackson Design, and helps small local businesses to succeed.

If you like this post, you might also want to check out the previous post in this series “What advice would you give to someone just starting out in a creative field?” And don’t forget to let us know how you’ve found a balance between your business and creative sides in the comments.

Brian E. Young is a graphic designer and artist in Baltimore, MD.

Why is personal productivity important?

Every week on Q&A Monday, I’ll be answering questions from the Uncanny Creativity community and the web.

Why is personal productivity important?
Anonymous asked on quora

Artists and designers use the word productivity to describe the art of deciding and acting on our top priorities. When we work with our values, we give our life a sense of meaning. First, we notice what we really want. Then, we figure out ways to keep those tasks and projects in motion.

Sometimes we don’t really think through the steps involved. We end up putting effort on reacting to situations we don’t really care about. We’ll often be distracted by helping others with their dreams. We’ll help them in ways that don’t make sense for our own lives. We’ll react to whatever random thoughts come to mind. Often any mental connect of our day triggers these thoughts if we don’t have a way to practice.

By taking action on what’s important, we get more of what we want and need. Researchers at Stanford surveyed almost 400 people about their thoughts on distinctions between meaningfulness and happiness. They found that getting what we need helps us feel happier. Such as when we put some effort toward our health, we’ll usually make healthier choices and then feel happier. The researchers linked thinking about the present linked to happiness.

Meanwhile, the Stanford survey found that thoughts about the past and future actions lead to finding meaning in life. Connecting to other people deeply with a sense of responsibility helps with both meaning and happiness. Finding meaning often is stressful. We might choose the career of our dreams, engage in hobbies, raise children, and travel. All of these include both levels of uncomfortable mental or physical trouble. Those choices also help us feel less stressed .

We could use the term task for anything that we need to carry out. We might have bigger more complex life projects filled with recurring tasks. Productivity for most people includes continually balancing our wants with those of others, dealing well with stress, and defining ourselves.

Brian E. Young is a graphic designer and artist in Baltimore, MD.

What types of mental blockades hinder creative thinking?

What types of mental blockades hinder creative thinking?
Anonymous asked on Quora

Often we get in our own way without realizing it. Figuring out which habit of thinking help or hurt us can be tricky. Often habits emerge from the environment and conditioning. The heart of creativity is solving problems in interesting ways.

Here’s a list of ten ways to look at your creative processes based on problem solving techniques used to change unhelpful thinking and the resulting behaviors.

Tip 1: Embrace the grey.

Compromise and find middle ground. Often when we’re stuck creatively, it’s because we’ve decided it exists as one thing or another other. It appears as the perfect most photorealistic painting or it is completely worthless. We must use all paints and no pencils. We’re a print graphic designer and don’t do the web.

Those are perfectly acceptable choices, sure. It’s also worthwhile to consider—revisiting the above examples—that any effort painting can yield lessons. That mixed media becomes really cool and interesting. And knowing a bit about the web, even if you’re primarily an expert print designer, is still better than nothing.

Tip 2: Focused on the task at hand.

Over-applying negatives about a task to all aspects of our life can trip us up. We’ll define ourselves by our job, our art, and our relationships. If we’re not “always” a perfect artist, this trap tells us, then we’re “never” worth much in all areas of our life. If your project isn’t the most original thing in the world, it doesn’t represent your self-worth.

Tip 3: Identify the positives.

We tend to only see the negatives. The positives are invisible to us. Notice what’s good about your efforts. It’s the only way to keep motivated to keep working and making.

Tip 4: Positives matter.

Even if we see the positives, it makes sense to take delight in good aspects. Make sure that you notice the positives about your work, and that you actually like and love those awesome aspects. Find where your strong happy emotions are. They tell your point of view.

Tip 5: Consider alternative solutions.

The first solution isn’t necessarily the best one. Avoid jumping to conclusions. Feel free to jump in to reality test your assumptions. Just because you’re trying something doesn’t mean it’s true either.

Tip 6: Stay present.

You can’t predict the future. We often envision disaster as a form of procrastination. This makes sense from an evolutionary standpoint. We developed an imagination to help us understand and avoid danger. Catastrophizing and fortune-telling takes this to an implausible level and cripples our creative muscles.

Tip 7: Gather comments.

Don’t assume the worst. Clearly communicate as best you can to your audience and collaborators. We don’t know if others will hate our work unless we share. Carefully curate that feedback for what we find usable and doable.

Tip 8: Consider evidence along with feelings

Don’t believe everything you feel and think. Consider what these thoughts and feelings are really based on. From there, we can create brand new conclusions.

Tip 9: Work with what’s possible

Don’t demand unrealistically about yourself and others. Understand where your expectations come from and what they are. There’s a thin line between positive idealism and negative perfectionism. Learn to understand how to be most productive.

Tip 10: Describe specific circumstances.

Avoid negative labeling of yourself and others. There’s no need to use unkind names when a neutral word or thought will do. Consider all contributing factors.


These ideas are based in part by tips described in David D. Burns’s Feeling Good Handbook.

Brian E. Young is a graphic designer and artist in Baltimore, MD.

What is the difference between stealing and inspiration?

“What is the difference between stealing a work and inspiration?”

Mohamed-76 asked on Quora

Substantial similarity is the term used in the United States copyright law to decide if a creative work is infringing. The court’s mindset can be used as a helpful creative framework.

Thedecision rides on whether the resulting work can only result from pure copying and not a coincidence. When making the distinction between copying and inspiration, the court use many factors such as:

Uniqueness, intricacy, or complexity. Guarantee that your work includes its own voice and structure. Expand your own experiences by telling your personal story. Draw from various ideas that you’ve discovered instead of just one and describe why they resonate for you. Start by explaining the story’s details and then give your ideal audience the your personal thinking behind it.

An unexpected element. What addition can you impose? Remove a common element that can be discarded to establish an element of surprise.

Mistakes in both works. Direct copying from a source can show mistakes. The copyist may not even understand the error. Without having a familiarity with anatomy, for example, an artist might copy an unrealistic invention or error. Only take inspiration from elements you understand. Study from various sources and learn from observing real life as much as possible.

“Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.” Pablo Picasso

Attempts at superficial differences. Making a copy while switching only colors or cropping is different from making a unique piece. Start from a base that is original to your piece. Make your piece mostly inventive. This is the fun part!

How to borrow creatively

When working with inspiration, try focusing on one aspect. If working with visual arts, you might look at only the color or only the composition. Think critically about what you really like about source material. You’ll fill in the blanks with other inspirations. Whatever thoughts you have collected over your lifetime will lead you to diverging paths than any other artist.

“Creativity is knowing how to hide your sources” C.E.M. Joad

Austin Kleon asks “Is it worth stealing?” in his book, “Steal Like An Artist”. Your choice of inspirations will be unique to you. If you love the design of Ikea furniture, antique houses, and country living… You’ll end up with a house that you love and that is custom made for you. Apply this idea to your artwork.

 

Brian E. Young is a graphic designer and artist in Baltimore, MD.