As soon as my alarm goes off in the morning, I am forced to make my first decision of the day: get up or stay in bed for a few more precious minutes? The next question arises just a few minutes later: coffee or tea? And before I leave the house, I need to work out whether I want to cycle to work today or jump in the car instead.
20,000 decisions a day
We make all kinds of decisions – many of them unconsciously or automatically – before the day has even properly begun. In fact, we make an average of 20,000 decisions every day – an astounding number. As we do so, our decision-making process is influenced by the experiences, knowledge and feelings imprinted on our brains.
I find it easy to make decisions in my personal life – I simply trust my gut instinct most of the time, which usually works out well enough. Despite this, I often find it difficult to make decisions or respond to “major” changes in my professional life. To solve this problem, I attended the “Schnell und sicher entscheiden” (“Making decisions quickly and confidently”) seminar offered by our TÜV Rheinland Academy in the hope of learning something new.
The seminar was held online. In the first part, we learned how decisions are made and how the mechanism behind them works. Every experience leaves its mark on our own personal storage media – our brains. Our nerve cells form networks and link them together. The more often we repeat a process, the more routine our actions become. The brain creates patterns from these routines and recalls them when making decisions. While decision-making routines make our lives easier, they can also limit our thinking and lead to erroneous reasoning. This then causes us to shy away from moving in a different direction or hesitate about committing to something new.
During the webinar, we learned that the approach we choose can make all the difference. Decisions are either rational, semi-rational or irrational. Uncertainty, too many goals and too many alternatives can all complicate decision-making. If nothing else, the fear of failure can also stop us from making the right choice.
Practical support – decision-making in seven steps
The speaker provided us with some simple support by breaking the decision-making process down into seven steps:
Decision-making hacks for the indecisive
While this process might sound long-winded at first, it is well worth the effort. As time goes on, you gradually internalise the various steps, which creates greater certainty and helps you to identify all of the pros and cons. One helpful tip is to put the points down on paper – that means making the effort to write down all of the details. If you are still unsure after that, there are a few decision-making tricks or ‘hacks’ that can help you make the right choice. These hacks can be used at different stages of the decision-making process. We were divided up into groups during the seminar to try out these methods for ourselves.
Hack #1 – the decision matrix
If you have several alternatives to choose from, the decision matrix could be the tool for you. The first step is to identify all of the alternatives and assessment criteria. Each of the assessment criteria is then assigned a different weighting. In our example, we are trying to decide whether or not to buy a camera for photo and film recordings. The price and user-friendliness of the camera are the most important factors and are therefore weighted with a multiplier. As it is important for us to make this decision as a team, each member is entitled to vote (in our example there are three people) and can use sticky dots to allocate their votes accordingly. Once all of the dots are allocated, they are added together with their respective weighting. The “winner” is the alternative with the most points overall – Alternative 2 in our example.
Hack #2 – the decision quadrant
The mathematicians among us are likely to prefer this method. The decision quadrant is a useful tool if the options have already been narrowed down, leaving just two alternatives to compare. The matrix shows positive, intuition-based factors together with rational counterarguments. If the individual fields are filled with the relevant arguments, the following formula is used:
(A+) + (B-) : (A-) + (B+) = first choice
If the result is greater than 1, then Alternative A is the better choice. If the result is smaller than 1, Alternative B “wins”. In our example, the person trying to make the decision has already decided to go on holiday. However, they are not sure whether or not they should travel abroad for their holiday due to the uncertainty caused by the pandemic. After each argument is listed in the table and calculated according to the formula, Alternative B, “holiday in Germany” emerges as the preferable choice.
Attending the seminar was a good decision! It was highly entertaining, the group work was practical and the methods were very agile. I came away with plenty of valuable tools and support that I will use in my future decision-making processes, both at work and at home. After all, relying on gut instinct is not always the best approach!
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