Tuesday, March 12, 2019


We make dozens of decisions every day, but some decisions are too complex to be resolved without study.   There are many books that advise http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2016/08/decisions-are-path-to-success.html  Johnson delves into what he calls "complex decisions," the ones that can change our lives and deserve careful deliberation.

As he recommends stories as a path to understanding Johnson tells us a few examples.  The decision process to kill Osama bin Ladin was very complex and serious.  The Abbotabad  decision benefited from previous mistakes.  We are taken back to a mysterious bit of information that only indicated that an important person might live at a compound in Abbotabad, Pakistan.  Although it was early speculated that this might be where bin Ladin was holed up, the danger of being wrong was critical. At each step of the process multiple opinions are sought and teased out with many choices being eliminated.

Loss aversion is a greater fear than greed for gain and needs to be guarded against.  At some point in a complex decision we try to calculate the risks of something not working out as anticipated.

Uncertainties are certain to be found in complex decisions or as Donald Rumsfeld would say, there are unknown unknowns.  One way of dealing with them is to cast a wide net involving other contributors.  As much as practical scenarios can be constructed.  Simulations might also be tried such as the Pentagon rehearsing possible attacks on Abbotabad that modified their plans.

You might recall there was no buildup to the announcement of a successful mission.  They had also taken into account some of the consequences of the assassination.  They had booked an alternative supply route to Afghanistan a year in advance.  They had taken precautions to minimize the martyrdom of bin Ladin.

Charles Darwin was contemplating marriage, but had many concerns about what he would have to give up.   We know that he adopted a version of what has come to be known as the Benjamin Franklin method.  Other than him actually marrying we don't know his conclusion to the decision.  Later he faced another decision when his daughter Annie was threatened with a little understood disease.  Unfortunately the options were not well studied and she died forcing changes in both his and wife's lives.  He became less religious and open about it while he his wife found comfort in her religion.

Returning to Darwin to illustrate other points.  What surprised me the most was that the decision to publish his theory of Evolution took very long.  He wanted the fame that he expected, but not the notoriety that would ensue and not only create intense religious hostility, but upset his wife.  His wife eventually accepted her husband's lack of religiosity, but in the end Darwin was forced to publish his theory as a rival threatened to publish his similar theory first.

Another set of decisions came from reading novels in particular "Middlemarch." George Eliot wrote "Middlemarch that contains decisions with factors that clash with one another.  Towards the end Johnkson refers to the life of George Eliot who was born Mary Ann Evans.   Unlike Darwin who tried to decide between marrying or not marrying George Eliot chose a third option which was to live together with her partner outside marriage.  Her decision involved her writing career and her political ideals.  An earlier blog dealt with the importance of using stories to persuade people to make a decision:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2011/06/tell-to-win-offers-winning-formula.html

Throughout the many examples in the book, Johnson maintains that diversity of viewpoints is critical, obviously such as including both genders, age range, a variety of ethnic, experiences, etc.  A single viewpoint is often unable to see a full range of choices.  He criticizes gerrymandering as it groups people with a predominant ideological perspective. 

My take on Premier Doug Ford's decision to cut the number of Toronto city councilors.  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2018/07/move-over-donald-trump.html 

Johnson suggests three complex issues that deserve careful analysis before making a decision: long term;  contact with extra terestial beings, immortality and artificial intelligence.  For some people the downsides are minor but in reality there are serious consequences to making a wrong  choice.  Scientists are now cautioning us against trying to contact beings from outside our planet as they would likely have superior technology and perhaps unkindly intentions.  Other scientists are concerned about artificial intelligence overcoming humans.  Immortality seems like a natural goal,that no longer seems impossible, but  it has difficult to assess consequences.

Of course for many of us we need a little help in making some decisions.  Sometimes we need a little help or we would like to "nudge" someone off the fence.  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2016/01/can-nudge-help-you-make-better-decisions.html

In the acknowledgements he admits that he starting taking notes almost ten years before publication.  A lot of decisions along the way.  Everyone is compelled to make important decisions--what career path to pursue, who to marry, to find a purpose in life.  

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