At its core, decision-making is about answering questions. Should we launch this product? Should I order take-out for dinner? Should I go on this date? These are conditional questions that reflect some number of possible futures. The decision occurs when you select one of the futures and take the action that it prescribes.
From a mechanical point of view, decision-making is straight-forward. Each time you come to a branch in the road, you select one of the options and proceed onwards. If you aren’t concerned with the ultimate destination, it’s a simple process. Of course, most of us are concerned with the destination, and it may be that not every branch in the road will get you to where you’re going.
Now, we start to see how complex decision-making really is. Knowing that there is a branch in the road isn’t enough — you need more information. Does the left branch lead in the direction you’re going? Does the right branch? Is one of the two routes longer? Safer? More scenic? In short order, your top-level question has devolved into a series of sub-questions.
If the top-level question is what defines your decision, then the sub-questions are what define whether you’ll make a good decision. It’s here where things become tricky. If you fail to ask the right sub-questions, then you may miss critical information. If you ask too many sub-questions, then you may never make a decision at all (which is often worse than making the wrong decision.)
Let’s look at an example. Imagine that you’re planning a vacation and you ask yourself, “should I go to Athens?” What information do you need to make a good decision? First, you might ask “what is the cost?” (and it’s various constituent questions — cost of hotel, airfare, average meals, souvenirs, etc.) Then, you might look at the weather for the time you plan to travel. Will it be rainy? Will it be hot? Relying on the advice of the people you trust, you might ask “do I know anyone who has been?” And more importantly, “did they have a good time?”
The list of questions could go on forever — and as we’ve established, at some point you have to stop asking questions and make a decision. That’s why it’s…