Make up your mind: evading the trap of the elusive global maximum.

Photo by Ivan Aleksic on Unsplash

I consider myself a considered decision-maker (although some might call it indecisiveness). I spend a significant amount of time collecting as much information as I can, because I believe that more data produces better decisions. I weigh the information in my mind, balance the pros and cons, striving to inch towards The Correct Decision — the global maximum over the range of decision quality.

Recently, however, I’ve found that this is not necessarily the optimal approach.

What is optimal, anyway?

As with everything in life, there are trade-offs. Programmers balance time against space efficiencies when choosing algorithms; software engineers weigh performance against maintainability when building systems; and policymakers consider both economic impact and public health outcomes when designing pandemic control measures.

When we are in the process of making a decision, we are trading off both the time we spend making up our minds and the opportunity cost of having not made a decision yet.

Therefore, the global maximum of decision quality is not necessarily the global maximum of outcome quality.

When we chase the global maximum, we trade our time and energy for marginal improvements in decision quality (since we are also further plagued by the law of diminishing marginal returns). In the end, we will never know if we are at the global maximum anyway.

Instead, strive to approach the global maximum, get pretty damn close, and make up your mind already. Then, enjoy the rest of your life.