21 Mar 2011  Research & Ideas

Are We Thinking Too Little, or Too Much?

In the course of making a decision, managers often err in one of two directions—either overanalyzing a situation or forgoing all the relevant information and simply going with their gut. HBS marketing professor Michael I. Norton discusses the potential pitfalls of thinking too much or thinking too little.

 

The most captivating item in Michael Norton's office is a Star Wars The Force Trainer, a toy that allows would-be Jedi warriors to levitate a Ping-Pong ball within a tube using only the power of focused thinking. Norton, a marketing professor at Harvard Business School, plans to study whether inducing people into believing they can expertly control the ball will affect the way they perceive themselves as business influencers.

In fact, Norton spends most of his time thinking about thinking. So it's somewhat ironic that his latest line of research explores the idea of thinking too much.

"If you've done something the same way for 10 years, it might be time to reconsider."

"Academics traditionally have taken two different approaches to decision-making," says Norton, who teaches in the Marketing Unit. "One view is that people often make decisions too hastily; they use shortcuts and heuristics, and therefore they're susceptible to biases and mistakes. The implication is that if maybe they thought more, they'd do better.

"And then there's this whole stream of research about ways in which you should think more carefully in more logical ways—creating decision trees that map out 'if you want to do this, then you should do this and not that,' making lists of the pros and cons and making a decision based on which list is longer, and so on."

However, there has been little research that considers the notion that overthinking a decision might actually lead to the wrong outcome. Nor have researchers come up with a model that explores how to determine when we're overthinking a decision—even though logic tells us that there certainly is such a thing.

"We all know that when we make lists, we often end up crumpling them and throwing them away because they're not really helping us make decisions," Norton says. "Bill Clinton was famous for becoming so involved with the intricacies of each policy that no decisions were made. Having a leader who considers every detail sounds great in theory, but it can be suboptimal for moving forward with a decision. There's a paralysis that can come with thinking too much."

Norton explores this idea in From Thinking Too Little to Thinking Too Much: A Continuum of Decision Making, an article he co-wrote with Duke University's Dan Ariely for Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Cognitive Science.

"We set out not to tell people whether they're thinking the right way, but just to get them thinking, 'I'm supposed to be making a decision right now—am I thinking too little about this, or am I thinking too much?' " Norton says. "Both of those could lead to mistakes."

"We set out not to tell people whether they're thinking the right way, but just to get them thinking, 'I'm supposed to be making a decision right now-am I thinking too little about this, or am I thinking too much?' Both of those could lead to mistakes."

For example, in choosing laptop computers for a sales team, an IT executive might get caught up in comparing the graphics capabilities and audio quality of various options, when in fact the only factors of importance to users are the size, weight, and security features. Worse yet, even if they narrow down the list of attributes under consideration, executives can still be stymied if they try to consider every single laptop on the market. (In the article, Norton and Ariely cite a study by social psychologists Sheena Iyengar and Mark Lepper, who showed that grocery store shoppers who were offered free samples of 24 jam flavors were less likely to buy any jam at all than those shoppers who sampled only 6 flavors; considering too many options made it too hard to choose one.)

The underthinker

The problem is that time-crunched managers often swing too far to the other end of the decision-making thinking spectrum—that is, they don't think at all.

"Very often managers find that there's not enough time to think through every single scenario or customer segment, which can take months," Norton says. "But too often the correction to 'We don't have time to do that' is an over-correction to one hundred percent 'We should go with our gut.' "

While all good managers should be able to make snap decisions in high-pressure situations, they may miss out on good opportunities—and fall into ruts—when they make quick decisions strictly out of habit. Too often, "We always do it that way" is the main reason for a decision.

For instance, a manager might hire or disqualify job candidates based on whether they make good eye contact during an interview, just because past candidates who made good eye contact ended up performing well at the company.

"So they just decide to use that criterion forever because it's worked out in the past," Norton explains. "But they don't think about what if they had hired people who don't make eye contact. Maybe they would have been better than the people who do. And so that's the idea we want people to consider. Sometimes when you make habitual decisions, things work out fine. But that doesn't mean they're the best decisions. And if you've done something the same way for 10 years, it might be time to reconsider—to think a little more."

Stale popcorn

More detrimentally, people may make downright bad decisions based on force of habit. In the article, Norton and Ariely describe a study in which several participants watched a movie while eating popcorn. Some received fresh popcorn, while others were given week-old, stale popcorn. The researchers found that those participants who always ate popcorn at the movies were just as likely to gobble down the stale popcorn as they were the fresh popcorn, strictly out of habit.

Lately, Norton has been studying the brain chemistry of decision makers, using functional magnetic resonance imaging (FMRI) in order to determine the neural signatures of decisions based on habits and those based on thoughtful analysis. He gives the example of choosing a favorite hangout because of the quality of the coffee and the ambience at a particular coffeehouse, as opposed to stumbling into a café on a very cold day when any hot drink would seem delicious—yet coming to believe in both cases that the establishment truly offers the best coffee in the whole world. "Ask yourself: Do I like this coffee because I really like this coffee, or do I like it because it was cold out?" Norton says.

Still, there's a long way to go before science offers a clear-cut method for thinking through decisions perfectly.

"We are hopeful that people will continue to conduct research in this area," Norton says. "What we know now is that people sometimes think too much, and sometimes they think too little. But we still don't know the right amount to think for any given decision, which is a fascinating decision yet to be solved."

About the author

Carmen Nobel is a senior editor for HBS Working Knowledge.

Comments

    • Todd I. Stark

    My experience has led to the notion that clear thinking is not a course we can take or something we choose to do to solve a problem. It's a collection of attitudes, beliefs, skills, strategies, and habits of thought that take a lifetime to develop and refine in addition to our speciallized expertise and general education.

    We may well do better not to think through some situations, but I perceive that the situations where this is true are greatly increased in most of us by the relatively low level of clear thinking resources we have developed because we rely too much on education, intelligence, and technical expertise to do the job, and they generally don't ensure it at all.

    "Should I think?" is usually the wrong question to ask. The high-level meta-decision that exceptional problem solvers are making is very often "what should I be focusing on right now?" The answer is never "nothing." Often the answer is "something other than what's capturing my attention right now" and every now and then, even, "something unrelated to this problem, for the time being." But the decision to switch focus has its own thinking behind it. Until people realize that good thinking is much bigger than just the obvious skillsets and natural abilities we rely on most of the time, and that the tradition of "thinking vs. non-thinking" is based a false dicohotomy that doesn't exist in practice in real-time problem solving, we are going to keep asking the wrong questions to get to the really interesting details of how problem solving and decision making work at their best.

     
     
     
    • Nick Tasler
    • CEO, Decision Pulse

    Very interesting research. I would love to see some research on the overall mental costs of deliberating too much. For a manager, for instance, is being consistently decisive and sometimes making sub-optimal choices better or worse than being less decisive but arriving at optimal choices slightly more often? I think logically, a case could be made either way.

     
     
     
    • David Wold
    • Director, Principia Leadership Institute

    There are so many factors to consider that any attempt to codify the right level of thinking is probably futile. How much information does the person have? How reliable is it? Is the quality of the decision more important than the speed of the decision? What is the decision maker's tolerance for risk and ambiguity? How important is buy-in from subordinates?

    A key factor not mentioned is experience. Someone who has dealt with similar decisions and has seen the outcome of choosing one alternative over another may be better able to avoid overthinking or underthinking. As shown in Cognitive Resource Theory, stressful situations make experience more important than intelligence.

    I imagine decision making will remain as much art as science no matter how much research is done.

     
     
     
    • Oluyomi Martins
    • CEO, Black Martins and Company Limited

    Very interesting article! I will advocate my theory on Clean Thinking which is based on some fundamentals as an option to consider even though it is not perfect. But what can be perfect in any social science you may ask? The fundamentals includes experience, logical cognitive reasoning, sixth sense and common good. My theory of Clean Thinking may vary based on the type of decision you want to make which will alter the fundamentals just a little based on individual mindset to make a right or wrong decision. More research will give us a better frame work.

     
     
     
    • Rob Hill
    • COO, Hill Corporate Partners, LLC

    "Born but to die, and reasoning but to err; Alike in ignorance, his reason such, Whether he thinks too little, or too much." Alexander Pope, from "An Essay On Man" (1733 - 1734) Epistle II

     
     
     
    • Amanda Young Hickman
    • Partner, Insight Experience

    The leverage for effective decision making is much broader than simply the volume of thought (over or under thinking). Beyond trying to be more conscious of whether you are over or under thinking a choice, there is great value in being more conscious about how you are framing the decision under consideration. A decision is a choice among options. The options you consider are signifcantly shaped by how you articulate the decision you face. If I had to choose which dynamic decision makers should be more conscious of--how their experience and thought patterns are shaping the frame/definition of their decisions or whether they were over-thinking or under-thinking the options, I believe I would choose the former.

     
     
     
    • Donal Jackson
    • Entrepreneur, private

    When you know what you want from your decision your thinking is steered. This is a fact but one may discuss it and think about it all day long.

     
     
     
    • Anonymous

    Imagine a situation wherein you can provide the problem-seeker with an alternative to think only 'this-much' and the problem will be resolved by the outcome of 'this-much' thinking.... is it possible to really dictate the outcome of the problem with 'this-much' kind of an approach...i don't think so....there are some problem which are simple and straightforward to resolve..but there are certain problems which comes with all kind of 'string-attached' riddle... i mean it depends on so many internal and external factors that it's impossible to weigh in all the factors and come out with a balanced thinking... generally, you follow 80-20 priniciple wherein you are hard-pressed for timely solution and therefore try to address 80% of issues and leave another 20% to your gut feeling that it will work.. most of the time i think it works!!!

     
     
     
    • Munir

    The actual problem is not being able to think to the purpose. Eevery decision making should at least encompass the major attributes and it is the ability of a good manager to include those in his/her thinking. Not much not less....

     
     
     
    • Ajay Kumar Gupta
    • Doctoral Researcher and Faculty(ITM), Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, India

    I think, thinking too much leads to either postponing or not taking decisions at all. Thinking too little leads to either taking wrong decision or over relying on intuition. Comparing both the situation, I think, second part provides more learning than first part, i.e. not taking decision at all. When we make mistake, we try to think more carefully to stop recurring same mistakes. At the same time, we also take measures to avoid similar situations that may lead into potential judgmental error. Snap decision is always resultant of thinking little and trusting more on intuition. I feel, one may avoid wrong decision by using emotion and intelligence both at the same time. Emotion helps us to empathize with the situation, person or events. And intelligence helps us to apply logic, analytical ability and scientific approach to the situations. Relying more on intelligence may yield more positive outcome than relying on gut or intuition alone. But balanced application of intuition and brain can be helpful in avoiding taking snap decision. However, there are situations where you may not have sufficient informations or time to think too much. And there could be situations, where you have all informations but unable to take decision. Reasons could be many, fear of failure, fear of being criticized, fear of losing position, expectations from top managements etc.. So, even you have informations, times, resources and even gut too, but external environment is not favorable or you don't have freedom to take decision, it will lead you to take decision based on demand rather than your own judgment. You can take decision that is based on logic, trends, analysis and your own sills and experiences etc.Therefore, I think, we need to take balanced amount of thinking connecting our emotions and intelligence to take better decisions. However, we have to have courage and mental unbiased to take decision that is right and less error prone.

     
     
     
    • Manoj Nair

    A welcome perspective on what many of us call the 'analysis paralysis rut in decision making. I am also reminded of Malcolm Gladwell's perspective explored in his book called 'Blink' where he delves into the power of thinking without thinking or rapid cognition as the jargon goes! Real thinking, in my view, lies somewhere in between and should be in response to what needs to done within a time frame..

     
     
     
    • S.S.G.K.Murali
    • Faculty, WLCI

    While the author has explored the dimensions of decision making at the end of the exercise we are still left wondering which type of situation warrants which style. More research may be able to shed light on this which i think given the kind of complexities that managers face in today's turbulent world would give a better handle in taking decisions

     
     
     
    • Seena Sharp
    • Principal and Author, Sharp Market Intelligence

    One of the advantages of due diligence is that you will uncover important and current input that will improve the decision. The challenge is knowing when to say "enough" even though there's more info to uncover.

    One way to deal with "too much info" is to set an appropriate time frame for finding and analyzing new input....3 hours, two days, Thursday......

    It's hard to make a case for business decisions based on gut rather than due diligence/competitive intelligence (unless you're dealing with people issues.) Gut reflects the past (combination of experience and facts) and may no longer be true, even though it appears to be so.

     
     
     
    • billy cripe
    • vp marketing & alliances, fishbowl solutions

    Great article. I would like to see more in the area of how we evaluate against what we are thinking. It seems to me that there is a great deal of information available as well as empirical and anecdotal evidence of the pros and cons of most any situation (online, message boards, family advice etc.). Therefore it is not the act of discovering ramifications of potential actions that is complicated, but rather the act of weiging options and opportunity costs.

    Better tapping crowd-sourced criteria might help alleviate both analysis paralysis and gut-jumping; especially in business situations. Http://cfour.fishbowlsolutions.com

     
     
     
    • Ian Plowman
    • Director, Ian Plowman Pty Ltd

    The article appears to be based on a premise that thinking and decision-making is rational. And to be fair, sometimes it is. Yet it is frequential arrational, and often social. In other words, our decisions are influenced by the opinions and behaviours of others. To illustrate, consider the following pairs and ask which of the two is more likely to be influential most of the time in the senior ranks of corporate and government arenas: - men/women - younger/older - taller/shorter - intravert/extravert - deep voice/high voice - unknown/well known - senior/junior - unattractive/attractive - dominant/submissive

    Your experience will tell you that, often one or several of these pairs seems to influence the decisions that are made. Yet a moment's thought will reveal that none of these characteristics has a necessary relationship with wisdom.

    There are sound evolutionary reasons why humans are hard-wired to be unconsciously influenced by these characteristics, even when they are no longer relevant.

    Imagine if we could construct our decision-making processes so that these unconscious arrational influences were removed, leaving only wisdom.

    Yes, there are simple and effective processes for doing this.

     
     
     
    • Anonymous

    First of all, Dan Ariela is a hilarious lecturer, I have a daughter at Middlebury College in Vermont, and he gave a talk I attnended that was about as good as it gets.

    There are strategic decisions, tactical decisions, and many in between. Hiring someone should look to what is needed in the position.

    In my my experience, tacticians gain the advantage and get over their heads when it comes to strategy. The strategic thinkers see the bigger picture, but are not effective in promoting themselves to the point that they achieve the leadership position.

     
     
     
    • Anonymous

    My friends! Stop and read each reply - you are thinking too much! Mr. Stark has come closest to the answer, however, he continued to think. You won't know till you get there... age and experience trumps thinking too much and under thinking. Reason being - you mellow, things become more clear, and the things you are thinking about are just not as important as...say....your family.

     
     
     
    • Pankaj Sahai

    My optimally-thought-out (!) view is that over or under (the time spent on) thinking is not the real issue that is keeping us from making effective decisions.The roadblocks to good thinking and resultant decisions, in my view, are the following :

    1. There is just too much information available these days, making it difficult to sift the wheat from the chaff.
    2. Organizations do not train their employees on "how to think" frameworks; thinking is looked as IQ related attribute rather than a competency that acquired through training.
    3. Employees lack "self-awareness" (an important attribute of Emotional Intelligence)and are not trained or encouraged by their organisations to develop their EQ as well as their latent creative, lateral thinking abilities( the author's points about stale popcorn and coffee are referring to the fact that some people have low EQ)
    4. Our business thinking is overly "jargon-ised", limiting the mind space for "common-sense" thinking.

    Thinking styles vary. How we think and make decisions is largely a function of our overall personality dynamics. All of us have a "native" style of thinking and making decisions and if we remain oblivious of this natural predilection and its unique strengths and blind spots, we will continue to make the same mistakes over and over again.So, some people think too much before making decisions resulting in "paralysis by analysis" which , then, may lead to sub-optimal, ineffective decisions. While many others think too less and make decisions by the seat of their pants, again falling short of what could be termed as effective decision making.To improve one's thinking and decision making abilities, one should make the effort to learn about one's native thinking and decision making style . This can be done by taking personality tests like MBTI, Enneagram etc, the resutant insights would then enable one to address the blind spots that inhibit one from becoming a "optimal thinker-for-best-results".

    In business and management,the trick is to think in compartments so that all aspects of the issues in consideration can be addressed in the final conclusions. This is what thinking tools like Six Thinking Hats, SWOT, Balanced Scorecard etc aid in doing. Also, by identifying all the stakeholders in the decision at the beginning of the thinking process and taking their perspectives on the issue at hand makes the thinking multi-faceted , resulting in more effective decisions.

    Pankaj Sahai Author : Smooth Ride To Venture Capital

     
     
     
    • Sundar Ramanathan
    • Senior Manager, Capgemini

    In this era of instant gratification as a consumer and equipped with several decsion making tools and widgets, the person behind the screen or smartphone has enough to keep the brain occupied - if at all he is focussed on what is presented to him by the tools/technologies as well as the REAL World. Changes occur faster with instant communication and social bonding of employees, retailers, suppliers and consumers. Now get to the point of decision making, does one think before or after or leave it for analysts to tell is all options open for Execs and managers. Execs and managers are all PEOPLE first and then due to their acquired status have become whatever they are. A common thread for PEOPLE is using the faculty of Grey matter - it does not just depend on too much time spent spinning the head before decision making. Facts or Fiction on the data and world they see before them can subject to effective and efficient Business decsion . But if they are oblivious of either but keep thinking like the teen age and underage kids that " I can do whatever i want as i have the power and authority to make the decsion", then there is absence of THINKING at all - not just a little or too much - just plain old NONE/ Emptiness that surrounds - it is or analysts and others to make anything out of this like getting to Zen training without a MASTER.

     
     
     
    • Tim Gieseke
    • President, Ag Resource Strategies, LLC

    The amount of thinking that is required may be queued by observation - a skilled that requires one not to think. Look before your Think.

     
     
     
    • Kent
    • Plant Manager

    Decision making is not this difficult. The right data, crossfunctional participation and a time frame.

     
     
     
    • John Haddock
    • President, Abbott Furnace Co

    Thinking and decision making can't be separated from the context and the potential consequences. A snap decision on where to get lunch probably has little real consequence and if it's late in the day you likely want to make a fast decision. But a hasty, poorly analyzed decision on a new ERP system could hobble a business for years. There may be a time fence looming, but experience says you'd better do your homework!

     
     
     
    • Pankaj bansal
    • PM, UMASS

    The research should have been turned around to focus on the factors for "Too Little or Too much thinking".

    I could think of following factors, and sure there are many more: 1. Outcome expected from the decision 2. Environmental (Physical/mental preparedness, location setting (your office/my office)

    For example, how does the outcome impact my position? If the stakes are very high (Job promotion, Bonus), I am sure we tend to over think or over plan. If the stakes are very low, we might want to get over it quickly.

    In the stale popcorn example... Participants are watching movie in a theater. If you give the same people stale popcorn in the lunch, they will notice and complain.

     
     
     
    • TGale
    • Aviation HF specialist

    The ability to choose how to make a decision is often framed by the context of the decision being made. Time, resources and priorites, all need to be defined before one can even define what decision needs to be made. For example when time is a fixed quantity, resources vary depending on the team available and communication efficiencies, a decision must be made regardless of the method. There is usually the luxury of at least a few moments of consideration to wheigh options but intuition is our insurance when time runs out which is why experience will aways outweigh wit over the long term analysis of operations. Where the problem currently lies is in the priorities of the decision maker. For example; Safety first? But at what cost? If a corporation wishes to have all it's decision makers representing the core values of the corporate identity then the values must be firmly installed in the culture of the company.

    So much more than just teaching someone how to make a decision. I think the real issue in the study of cognition vs. intuition is in the evolution of culture.

     
     
     
    • Andrew Dupree
    • Advisor, Sayrahan Limited

    Hello, I have been contemplating Professor Norton's 'A Continuum of Decision-Making' for some time -- without resolve, I must admit. There is a bit of a story that goes along with the subject:

    A little boy is in school working on his arithmetic. The teacher says, "Imagine there are 5 black birds sitting on a fence. You pick up your BB gun and shoot one. How many blackbirds are left?"

    The little boy thinks for a moment and says, "NONE!" The teacher replies, "None, how do you figure that?" The little boy says, if I shoot one, all the other birds will fly away scared, leaving none on the fence." The teacher replies, "Hmm, not exactly, but I do like the way you think!"

    ....

    There are a number of explorable issues that trend along with the subject of thought. For instance, as we increase in intellect, age, and experience, do we out think ourselves? (i.e., President Clinton and policy example above)

    Or, do we have so much information (as in the IT and Jam samples also above) that we tend to not analyze but rather analyze a decision into despair?

    Professor Norton's sub-premise of changing the way we think, is also worthy of further exploration. The subject of thinking, or not, is critical to developing business mind in the manner to that we process daily decision-making.

     
     
     
    • Guy Higgins
    • Performance Squared

    Another perspective, but certainly not any kind of answer. Establishing bookends (opposites in approach) for making decisions can help in deciding when to think, how much to think and when to cut thinking very short. A colleague once remarked to me that the future is coming at us at a rate of one second per second. Like the statements ascribed to Yogi Berra, this sounds pretty silly, but forces us to recognize that we live in real time and cannot always subscribe to the luxury of deep thinking and significant analysis. When we understand David Snowden's Cynefin domains and can recognize the domain we're in AND the kind of decision we need to make, we can better respond and make the quick decision when called for or the long range, strategic decision when that is called for. Practice counts too. Professional athletes immerse themselves in their upcoming opponents style of play, they practice against that style of play and some of the very plays. This practice enables them to move from sensing what is happening to acting with minimal intervening thought -- because the practice has permitted the thought to take place when real time response was not called for. All analogies are suspect, but some are useful. I hope this is useful.

     
     
     
    • Jay Somasundaram
    • Systems Analyst

    I'd suggest considering that these models are too mechanistic - that a decision is turning a switch at a particular time. In reality, results are achieved through a myriad of activities, by many people over a range of time. It is a much more organic process. For example, health-care reform was not a single decision made by President Obama. many people shaped the act, and many others its implementation.

    There is a fair amount of evidence that even in systems designed to be objective (such as tender evaluations) people bend information and decisions towards that which they think their leaders (those in power) want. This happens even when the leader wants an objective decision. The human brain is not a unitary structure. Different parts of the brain are processing all the time. The human mind includes, for example, a reptilian brain and a hormone system.

    When discussing situational leadership, I'd suggest at least two models - that of a command and control framework. and consensus based decision-making

     
     
     
    • Atul Guglani
    • Director, Mantex Technologies

    The subject basically evolves around " Speed Vs Accuracy" in the process of Decision Making.

    Decision Mapping is proportional to the risk with each decision. Low Risk Decisions are automatic , spontaneous and reflexive. High Risk Decision are cluttered , mostly evolve out of latent voting of the team , gut feeling, escape routes, safety belts, cover up etc etc.

    If only all blind spots could be seen by human interface, probably Robots would do a better job as managers. Test of Manager is only and only at the time of decisions which are taken without available clear and concise data, rules or precedence.

    Market forces generally do not allow underthinkers or overthinkers to galvanize into a stable entity. Hence speed is essence of any business.

    Optimal Decisions are rather forceful decisions. Where boundary conditions are defined by the prevailing situation and the best exploitation of resources with sensible risk. After that a failure is still a success.

    One cannot forget that beyond all circumstances, it is always the unseen hand, which makes and breaks the situation.

     
     
     
    • Evert Janse van Rensburg
    • CEO, Credenti Business Consulting

    Very relevant. This also ties up with a previous HBS article dealing with the cost of decision making.

    The decision maker should make the right decision based on available information, not the perfect decision. Care should be taken that the additional costs (time, money, other resources) to make a perfect decision might exceed the potential additional benefits, if any.

     
     
     
    • Aruna Sharma
    • Officer on Special Duty (OSD), Worlds Window Group, India

    A mind full of too many ways to look at a problem, and present to a range of solutions with lots of supporting data and its analysis, is very likely to get stuck in analysis paralysis and it is impossible to look further beyond the obvious and real data for some unusual simple answers, especially if the stakes are high and repurcussions too many. The thinking process is slow, lengthy and inconclusive. As against this, where a person has practically nothing much to accomplish e.g. travelling, in a bathroom or lavatory, hours after a good night's sleep, thinking is spontaneous and clear and throws up unusual and simple solutions.

     
     
     
    • Paul Nicholas
    • Director, Sou-Chaplain Consultancy

    This is really interesting and thought provoking - but thankfully not too much! It depends to a degree on both how we think and the kind of thinking we base our decisions on - and I do see these as different. There is increasing evidence that many of our decisions are made unconsciously, and our conscious mind then rationalises and creates a narrative that "explains" our decision. A common sequence would seem to be 1. an emotional reaction and engagement with the issue; 2. the emotional response triggers a feeling; 3 we begin to think and reason about the issue; 4. we articulate our reasoning as a narrative or story or explanation of our decision. Sometimes the decision can be unconsciously determined before we are aware that we have "made up our mind". This probably also accounts for some of what we call "intuition" - which is basically knowing something without being conscious of why we know it. Intuition was often given a bad name and held in dubious regard - but is now regaining ground and being placed on a scientific footing. Or at least I think it is!

     
     
     
    • Ravindra Edirisooriya
    • Senior Accounting and Finance Major, Missouri Southern State University

    The amount of thinking (measured by time) needed to make a decision (perceived right by the decision maker) is a function of time (availability), timing of decision (unique /periodic /continuous), risk in the decision (consequences of failure), set of alternative decisions available, assumptions of the decision(s) (acceptance of known /discounting of unknown), risk profile of the decision maker (risk taking /risk averse), maturity (what is maturity?) of the decision maker, culture (what is culture?) of the decision maker, physiology of the decision maker (impulsive /thoughtful) and the neurosis of the decision maker (self centered /subject centered). The optimal amount of thinking needed to make the "right" decision is in the solution space of the above function!

    The subjects of the decision (who what when where is affected) is accounted through the neurosis (the power play) of the decision maker.

    Now think that you are an elementary school teacher with a group of preschoolers going on an excursion in a public plaza in Tokyo, today. You are enjoying the Sun and the cool breeze. You are thinking of how long to stay outside. How long will you think?

     
     
     
    • Kapil Kumar Sopory
    • Company Secretary, SMEC(India) Private Limited

    Thinking is always happening. Everybody thinks, some for achieving goals in the short run and some with long term perspectives in view. If proper results are not achieved. worry accompanies thinking and this leads to further failure as the focus gets lost.Thinking is important but worrying is superfluous for worry retards thinking. Whether we need to think too little or too much depends on what we are thinking about. In a research based activity, too little thinking would not do. You have to go into all aspects in depth. Also, while framing legal documents and similar others. However, if we start too much thinking on day to day normal activities/chores which are decided though experience and gut, we may lose precious time and this is not a prudent course of action.

     
     
     
    • Ronaldo
    • CEO, TOPGAS CORPORATION

    Interesting study. I think that in some situations you need a different approach to understand and solve a problem. Here in Brazil, we have a very fast "rain" of problems an new situations every day. So, it?s better to do a quick and intelligent decision than take a lateness course of action. Of course, putting the problem in real perspective is in the core of a good decision, but if it takes a delayed action, I would prefer to perceive not just my rational thinking, and try to "sense" and "fell" the broad spectrum related to the problem and the possible solution.

     
     
     
    • Harry K. Samboo
    • formerly Manager HR & Admin, Now retired

    Ability to think is that important characteristic our brain allow us to perform. Are we thinking too little or too much depends on situation. Very often we are compelled for a quick decision - giving an answer during a recruitment interview- at times we have all the time to think in order to submit a thesis. Anyhow it's a very interesting article which has make all of us think! Regards from Mauritius

     
     
     
    • Anonymous

    Barry Schwartz talks a lot about too much choice in "The Paradox of Choice" which relates to this topic. When a person is faced with too much choice making the decision very quickly becomes too hard and they either make a snap decision or no decision or get lost in "analysis paralysis" mode trying to work through which is the right choice.

     
     
     
    • Clark Phippen
    • Director, EnerTech Capital

    WHEN one thinks seems key to me: it's best done not when a decision is upon you, but well in advance. Decision-makers and, particularly leaders, know what they want - overall, and in some detail. These are "principles" or "values". Once known, most decision opportunities can then be straightforwardly weighed against them and made - optimally, if the pre-thinking is sound.

     
     
     
    • Maurizio Milazzo
    • Director, Omnitech

    The good decision maker understand when is time to act after collected the right number (in quality and quantity) of informations. Depending on the different scenarios, "this" is the ability that can differentiate a good manager by a bad one. Ask in the interview to candidates to tell you "when" they act in a particular situation to understand how good they are.

     
     
     
    • Art McDonald
    • Business Intelligence, Inc.

    What an excellent collaborative stream of consciousness. For over 20 years, my work has been to build thinking structures: data warehouse, reporting, analytics, dashboards, etc. As a student of my work, I've learned that there is a great deal of reusable thinking structures within each industry. We're still learning how to most effectively employ the ever evolving information technology tools to present an intuitive, but flexible capability for people to ask questions, get answers and, based on that answer, ask another question - get another answer - and so on, until enough relevant information has been acquired to take action - the goal of all thinking. Thinking structures that help people focus on a specific aspect of their business have been found to be very productive.

    I am about to finish an excellent book: Designing with the Mind in Mind, by Jeff Johnson, which, among other topics, presents a very understandable description about how our conscious and subconscious minds work. My take-away, relative to this dialog, is that the mind needs to be cleared - consciously cleared with sleep, meditation, floating in a hot tub (my favorite), where there is no conscious input...which allows your subconscious mind to process prior input, organize that input with prior learning experiences, and present insights and understanding relative to current challenges. We all can benefit by giving ourselves more time to "hear ourselves think," before making critical decisions.

     
     
     
    • Niclas Lindstedt

    Decision making pilars are still as mentioned before, how well do I know myself (self-awareness) and how well do I know my "eco-system" (enviroment, business, experiences, education, network, etc etc) around me.

    I find myself usually fall in to the pitfall of thinking too much, when I think about things I really can not influence or try to forsee how other people react. In most of these cases I only can do my best and have a good story to go with the decision. This too-much-thinking is human as I don´t like to make the wrong decision.

    I usually think too little when something is "a done deal", "makes sense and cents", all thinking actually re-inforces my already thought solution.

    The balance of thinking, is to make sure it follows with enough actions which can support my thoughts.

    Good luck moving the Ping-Pong ball!

     
     
     
    • Beverly Emerson
    • Principal, Olive Tree Product Development

    Good decision making comes from asking good questions. Great decision making comes from asking GREAT questions-- questions that get to the heart of the situation. Next, it is answering those, not just logically and analytically, but also with intuition that comes from experience. Gut feel, when well-grounded, is worth more than innumerable excel spreadsheets and decision trees.

     
     
     
    • Sweta Mohapatra
    • HR Business Partner, Barclays

    Answer to this thought provoking question would so much depend on 'what' the decision is. A smart manager would always know which issues to save more thinking for against others which can be done with little or no thought. But definitely you get more and more seasoned with practice to differentiate the 'no brainers' from the ones which need digging deeper and thinking more !!

     
     
     
    • Quentin Hart-Slater
    • Technical Lead, Marquette University

    There must be more to thinking than choices. Is tolerance for risk a binary choice or qualitative reasoning, analog. What about the facts ? Are they real or imagined ? It would seem that thinking well remains the preserve of those equipped with a square footing in the quantum world of human behaviour.

     
     
     
    • Chad
    • Pearson TalentLens

    Good article. The most important question to get right might be what are the ramifications of a decision? Then work backwards to see what you need to do now/next.