Making Decisions the Systematic Way

How elementary math can help you make the right choice

Dhanyasri Raja
Aug 30, 2020 · 6 min read

Constant worrying, lasting restlessness, and prolonged agitation have become common amongst youngsters these days. Even things we have always loved and enjoyed seem irritating and dull. It wouldn’t be an overstatement to say that that’s how a significant portion of us are. Being unable to sleep peacefully and take rest doesn’t sound like a big issue anymore.

Our body reacts by flooding itself with hormones and chemicals, trying to cope with anxiety. This is just internal and doesn’t seem so bad. On the outside, we have lost control of our actions and, thus, our stability.

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Source: The Recovering Engineer

This situation is where the question ‘Why?’ plays a role. Surprisingly enough, the answer usually zeroes down to one wrong decision we might have made down the line. Even the smallest of our judgments, when gone awry, could impact us adversely. Though anxiety might be a result of different happenings, it is often associated with the choices one had made. Even during the seemingly silly situations, decisions have a crucial role to play.

Sadly, only a precious few can make the right decision. Much to many’s annoyance, it usually demands to cultivate a vast list of habits and is time-consuming. But, what if you were told that there are other ways?

Decisions are meant to be hard. They tend to carry problems with them, which are unique and have their difficulties. What one finds to be overwhelming might not be the same for another.

Decision-making is a cognitive process of selecting a particular course of action, amongst many others. Though it plays a crucial and substantial role in our lives, this process has, with time, become a tedious and exhausting one.

Source: VectorStock

A significant majority of us struggle to make sound decisions. Most of the time, we either make decisions unconsciously or illogically. To make better choices, not only does analysis need to be done, but peace of mind is also a necessity. In such a case, where an overwhelming number of people suffer from anxiety, depression, and decision fatigue to be specific, how are industries coping up?

Decision fatigue, now a common issue amongst millennials, is observed when a person is subjected to long decision-making hours. As a result, the quality of decisions made by the individual drops low and deteriorates.

For the most part, the choices we make don’t depend on one definite criterion. A familiar situation of choosing a phone can explain it perfectly well. We don’t only look for its cost, but also its features and looks too. Deciding on a college also falls under this category. Not only do we prioritize the course, but also what the campus offers and the standard of the professors. Though both these situations don’t matter the same way, making the right call based on different criteria is vital. In case you are struggling with such frequented circumstances, fret not. MCDM is there to help you. All you need to know to use it is basic school mathematics and nothing more.

In the working paper “Decision Quicksand: When Trivial Choices Suck Us In,” Aner Sela and Jonah Berger consider a hypothesis that says why people squander a lot of energy on deciding as consumers. It is that people tend to get confused with the array of options and excess information, eventually giving more importance for such mundane day to day purchases.

MCDM

Have you ever wondered how huge MNCs chose with whom and what they work? Well, here’s the answer!

Primarily used in industries, Multi-Criteria Decision Making, abbreviated as MCDM, is a technique practiced to ensure that the right decision is made.

Consider a case where a construction company is unsure about choosing between the tiles of different suppliers. Here, the multiple criteria the decision could depend on are the durability, design, cost, and the proximity of the shop. MCDM could be used to decide on the supplier purely based on the company’s priorities. By selecting the right supplier, the company not only achieves its needs, but also satisfies its client.

Basic math is known to the bulk of us. When that’s the case, why not make use of it?

An explanatory video on the MCDM method

History of MCDM

It was during the 19th century that the Italian sociologist, Vilfredo Pareto realized the complications caused by multiple criteria in making decisions. Later in the following years, with inputs and modifications by pioneers in the field and significant research, especially during the 1940s and 1950s, MCDM took form. From the 1970s to the 1990s, MCDM has advanced rapidly.

Multi-Criteria Decision Making (MCDM) is interchangeable with Multi-Criteria Decision Analysis (MCDA) as the model is technically an analysis based on your priorities.

Popularly used MCDM techniques:

Although there are several techniques under MCDM, few of them are used widely. Some of them that the industries are:

  • WSM — Weight Sum Method
  • AHP — Analytical Hierarchy Process
  • TOPSIS — Technique for Ordered Preference by Similarity to Ideal Solution

These techniques are repeatedly found to be preceded by the word ‘fuzzy.’ Such is the case when the different criteria are found to have a level of uncertainty. Here the same method is modified to suit the vagueness in the decision-making process.

These techniques are time and again used in the organizational context but don’t pose to be of much use when it comes to making day-to-day personal decisions.

Steps involved in MCDM; Source: toolshero

Can we use MCDM for personal uses?

Yes, to a great extent. But you may want to ensure that you have a clear idea about a few things. Be sure that you are aware of the options available. Also, know the attributes based on which you would want to decide and how important each one is. Attributes are, in layman’s terms, the properties or traits of the object based on which you prefer making a decision. Once you determine the relative importance of each property, you’re ready to go!

How do we use it (personally)?:

Once you have a rough idea of what matters to you, convert them into a table. In case the importance of attributes is not in numbers, convert them to a five-point scale where low corresponds to 1, and high corresponds to 5 or mark them out of a hundred. This step gives us an idea of how good each of the options is in the particular criteria.

The table should look something like the one below. Here, autos are compared by marking their attributes out of a hundred. In Auto 1, the attributes are multiplied to numbers, which are percentages.

A sample table; Source: toolshero

Ensure that all your attributes are comparable. The next step is to multiply each of the values in hand to the percentages you have. Finally, all that you will have to do is add. Yes, simply add. Once you have added, the values show how much each of the options suits you based on your preferences. The one with the highest value is the pick of the litter!

In case you have changes in your priorities, do not worry. Values can be changed, and decisions can be made whenever you need to.

Why put yourself through the agony of making decisions when such a facile method exists?

Though this process might seem intimidating, the choices you end up making are sure to be right. By following this method, not only are you going for what you desire, but also reducing the anxiety that you would probably have gone through otherwise.

At last, the mathematics you learned in school has found some use in daily life — to simplify your decision-making.

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