An Introduction to Decision Modeling

Ian David Moss
The Startup
Published in
10 min readJun 5, 2019

Despite their importance, we barely pay attention to most of the decisions we make. Fortunately, there’s a better way.

Photo by Franki Chamaki on Unsplash

Decision-making is life. Over time, our decisions carve an identity for ourselves and our organizations, and it is our decisions, more than anything else, that determine how we are remembered after we’re gone. Despite their importance, though, we barely pay attention to most of the decisions we make. Biology has programmed in us a powerful instinct to make decisions using our intuitions rather than our conscious selves whenever possible. There are good reasons for this; if we had to think about every little decision we made, we’d never get anything done. But for all its advantages, the worst thing about intuition is that it’s almost impossible for us to ignore — even when it’s clearly leading us astray.

Scientists have demonstrated that intuition is best suited to situations that we’ve seen hundreds or even thousands of times before — contexts where we’ve had a lot of practice and clear and accurate feedback on how well our previous decisions worked out. That’s great for decisions like how much to press the brake pedal when you see a stop sign coming up. The most important decisions in our lives, though, almost never fit this pattern. Their importance and high stakes almost by definition make them rare and unfamiliar, which is why many of us feel flummoxed in situations like these. Generally, we’ll respond in one of two ways. The more cautious among us are acutely aware of the stakes. Our anxiety levels go up, we turn to friends and colleagues for advice, and in organizational contexts, we schedule meeting after meeting in hopes of resolving the dilemma (or better yet, getting someone else to resolve it for us). Others of us confidently choose a path forward, but with a false certainty rooted in the fantasy that we understand our world better than we actually do. We avoid analysis paralysis, but greatly increase the chance of leading ourselves and others down the road to disaster.

Neither of these responses are much help to us in making better decisions, because neither of them address the core issue. Complex decisions require us to compare the likelihood and desirability of many possible futures on multiple, disparate, and often conflicting criteria. That’s something our intuitions just aren’t…

Ian David Moss
The Startup

Smarter decisions for a better world

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