Can you make a tough call?

Sometimes decision-making requires making some tough calls. Fortunately, there are tools that can help. Linear value modeling, a method used in statistics, can assist in complex decision-making.  Linear value modeling maps out possible options and weighs them according to the value you’ve given them.

Imagine you’re deciding whether or not to get married. Value-based considerations might include finances, the possibility of having children, the value of free time alone and the desire for a life companion.

For each consideration, you would assign a value calculated on the likelihood of satisfaction based respectively on marrying or not. So, your chances of having a child might be 30% if you stay single, but 70% if you marry. You then weigh each possible outcome. The weighting scale goes from 0 to 1, where 0 is ‘unimportant’ and 1 is ‘very important.’ So, if the idea of having children appeals to you, it might score 0.75, whereas you might give your freedom a weight of 0.25. You’d then multiply those weightings by the relevant likelihood percentages calculated earlier. Once you’ve done the sums, you’ll know which decision is the one you should opt for.

And the uses of linear value modeling don’t stop with humans. The process can also help machines make decisions. Most likely, as self-driving cars become more common, they’ll start relying on linear value modeling. They’ll need it to work out the merits of outcomes based on given maneuvers, as well as the probability of those outcomes actually occurring.

Imagine a pedestrian jumping out into a bidirectional right-hand-traffic road as a self-driving car approaches. The car must now assess the situation and make a choice. If it swerves to the right, there’ll be less chance of colliding with another vehicle, but an increased risk of hitting the pedestrian. This could easily be fatal for the pedestrian, so avoiding this outcome likely has a large weight in the car’s value system. If the car is not driving too quickly, it may prefer to swerve left. It’s quite likely that it will hit another vehicle, but as this would be unlikely to cause fatalities, the car has a lower weight on avoiding this outcome.

If mathematical decision-making is such a great idea, then you might think that only those who are able to do the sums are capable of making good decisions. But thankfully, that’s not the case. Those who are less mathematically minded can also make great decisions, simply by doing a little ruminating.

If you think about it, making a decision functions much like mathematical analysis. By mulling something over, you’re considering different options available to you over an extended period of time. The key is to allow yourself enough time to do this. That way, you won’t forget important variables or overlook an option that might resolve the current set of conflicting advantages and disadvantages.

Once you’ve taken all possibilities into account, it’s important to give yourself a rest. Take some time out. Go for a long walk or get creative, just make sure you allow your mind to wander. This gives the brain’s default system – the part that processes stuff in the background while you’re doing everyday tasks – the time to filter through all that information and shape an informed intuitive decision.

The other advantage of mulling things over is that mathematical decision-making has its limits. Let’s return to the strike on Osama bin Laden’s compound. Irrespective of the work done by the red team, there was no mathematically certain way to calculate whether Bin Laden was actually there or not. It was the slow process of careful consideration and examining the situation from all sides that allowed the Obama administration to make assumptions about Bin Laden’s location. Mathematically, they knew there was only a 50 percent chance of Bin Laden really being there, so it was intuition that saved the day.

We’ve learnt a lot. Making decisions is never easy, and even math can’t always get you to the finish line. But if you do a few sums and take the time to mull the variables and outcomes over, you’ll be well on your way to making a sound and informed decision.

Decision-making is difficult for each and every one of us. That’s because humans have a hard time predicting what the future outcome of any given decision will be and whether we will be happy with that outcome. That’s why it’s important to take the time to make decisions. Both the traditional approach of just chewing things over or a more technical and mathematical approach of mapping out all options and variables can be useful.

Check out my related post: Do you worry about what people think about you?

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