Every day we make decisions: what to eat, when to sleep, where to go and what to do. Most are easy and barely require any thought. But big decisions can make us sweat and keep us up at night. They somehow seem harder. We forget that many of these decisions are simply a step on a path to a goal (such as forwarding a career or improving a way of life) and one is not always measurably better than another. In a 2014 TED Talk, Ruth Chang explains, “What makes a choice hard is the way the alternatives relate. In any easy choice, one alternative is better than the other. In a hard choice, one alternative is better in some ways, the other alternative is better in other ways, and neither is better than the other overall.”
In an article on NPR Tania Lombrozo, a psychology professor at the University of California, Berkeley writes, “Hard decisions should be easy, perhaps, but they certainly don't feel that way. That's due to the second reason hard decisions are hard: We perceive the choice to be consequential.”
Philosophers have long pondered the decision-making process. In the 1930s, Chester Barnard, author of “The Functions of the Executive,” introduced the term “decision making” to the business world and changed the ways managers think about what they do. Today, researchers use “Decision Science” (a combination of theories and methods from psychology, economics, statistics, philosophy, mathematics, sociology and political science) to determine the best methods of making decisions.
Advances in the capabilities of computers and artificial intelligence allow researchers to collect massive amounts of complex data that they then manipulate to generate possible scenarios. This helps identify the numerous risks, rewards and uncertainties associated with possible decisions. While this analysis is helpful (predictions based on scientific data tend to have a high level of accuracy), computers are not yet capable of making all decisions for us. For those times when a computer can’t help you, decision researchers have some helpful dos and don’ts that may help.