Although prior knowledge of how to approach a particular problem helps us to some extent, it can largely hinder our decision making process. Instinctively, the human mind causes us to succumb to second guessing ourselves and making a decision out of fear, rather than from intuitive knowledge. Additionally, the human mind also has a predisposition towards cultivating an inside-view during decision making. An inside view considers a problem based upon the surface level information of the specific task at hand, and makes predictions based upon the narrow set data points relative to the problem. Comparatively, an outside-view draws upon similar or even distant analogies to the problem at hand, by purposely setting aside information relative to the problem, in a conscious effort to minimize biases.
We allow fear to control our actions and decision making. Sometimes, we may not even know it because we have done such a good job at convincing ourselves otherwise. We think of the future and obsess over adverse outcomes that can happen as a direct result of our actions. We are cautious and methodical, intentionally as to not make the “wrong decision.” This is how we involuntarily hedge our own personal risk. Often, this fear serves a constructive purpose, enabling us to safeguard our assets. But sometimes, this developed habit can act as a mental barrier to sound decision making when fear inhibits our ability to approach problems differently. Research suggests that approaching a problem with the same mindset developed from previous problems that are similar, may actuallyinhibit our ability to make the best decision or the correct valuation. Sounds counterintuitive doesn’t it? That’s because our brains are hardwired to draw upon our learned experiences when problems and solutions repeat. To approach a problem differently poses a risk, so naturally we develop a habit to approach the same problem in the same way despite how greatly the variables of each situation change. By critically evaluating past events, and applying previously learned knowledge gained from similar experiences, we are limiting our problem-solving abilities.
The trouble in using no more than one analogy, particularly if it is a similar situation to the problem at hand, is that it does not help battle the inside view since we make judgement on the narrowed details that are the most apparent to us. The outside view is deeply counterintuitive because it causes the decision maker to ignore unique surface features of the current project, of which they are the expert.
In 2012, University of Sydney business strategy professor Dan Lovallo conducted an inside-view research study, to test the idea that drawing upon a diverse range of analogies would naturally lead to an outside view perspective and improve decisions. They recruited investors from large private equity firms who regularly consider potential projects in a variety of domains. The researchers believed that the investors’ expansive experience might have naturally lent itself to the outside view. The private equity investors were instructed to assess a real project they were currently working on and write down a batch of other investment projects they knew of with broad conceptual similarity. The results showed that the investors estimated a 50% higher return on their own project than the outside projects they had identified as conceptually similar. The investors initially judged their own projects, where they knew all the details, completely differently from similar projects to which they were outsiders. This is a widespread phenomenon – the more internal details you learn about any particular scenario, the more likely you are to say that the scenario you are investigating will occur. Therefore, the more internal details an individual can be made to consider, the more extreme their judgment becomes. The results of the study suggest that broad conceptual similarities should be considered when making a decision. In Range, author David Epstein argues that referencing distant analogies relative to the problem at hand, enables the highest rate of successful decision making. The outside view probes for deep structural similarities to the current problem relative to different problems. One way to achieve sound decision making is to develop self-awareness of the natural inclination to make self-proclaiming assumptions, and the limitations of becoming buried in details that may inhibit optimum decision making.
Additionally, possessing a diverse range of experiences enables the decision maker to be better prepared to approach any given problem with a broader mindset. With the work world changing faster than it did in the past, it is essential to broaden your specialty in order to optimize your decision making ability and expand your knowledge across a variety of domains. The people who make the biggest impact have a diverse background of prior experiences within their intellectual toolbox to draw upon when determining the best solution for a problem at hand. In 2016, LinkedIn conducted a study to analyze the career paths of 459,000 members to determine who would become an executive. One of the best predictors is the number of different job functions an individual had worked within a given industry. The study concluded that each additional job function provides a boost that, on average, is equal to three years of work experience. Therefore, to optimize your decision-making ability and create competitive advantage in the ever-changing workforce, take on new challenges and roles to strengthen your weakest abilities and become as well-rounded as possible. For us to be the best for our clients, we must approach each problem with a broad and open mind, while being cognizant of the transferability of our past experiences. Each experience has added value to who we are and has shaped our unique insight. The reward of learning a new skill develops new habits, strengthens the mind to overcome the fear of doing something new, and enables us to become the best version of ourselves for our clients.
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