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10 ways to develop decision-making capabilities in a complex and fast-moving world

In an age of emerging artificial intelligence, increasing speed of change and complexity, a purely rational approach to decision making needs to be supplemented with a more mindful and creative approach, says Michael Nicholas

Decision making

What will smart machines do to decision making? Already they can outperform experts in gathering relevant information and analysing that information. They can learn more quickly and accurately, they don’t run out of capacity, they have perfect recall and the best of them can even outsmart us in critical thinking tasks, such as medical diagnoses.

What’s more, they aren’t subject to the well-known biases that can affect human beings. How long before even complex business tasks are being diagnosed and actions recommended by a machine?

If that were the whole story we’d be in big trouble. The reduction in our ability to add value would be all but inevitable – a question of when, not if. However, there are things we are uniquely capable of doing; skills and capabilities which look as though they would be beyond machines for some time yet, perhaps indefinitely. These include our ability to understand novel concepts and situations, to connect with human beings at emotional levels, and to create, innovate and invent. We need to play to those strengths, and the interesting thing is that as the pace of change in the world increases, led by advanced technology such as AI systems, so does the demand for these human capabilities.

One area where this is especially true is in decision making, where success in meeting the needs and challenges of the new world will no longer be about the size of the problem you can handle, but more to do with the type of problem that you can solve.

Your ability to perceive or think differently, which is within everyone’s grasp, is going to be more important to decision making than any specific knowledge you may have gathered to date. Integrating a set of solid principles, based on sound understanding about how our minds and brains work, can equip you both for what is happening and what is to come.

10 principles critical to develop decision-making capabilities needed for the future

  1. We can access much more of our potential by learning to harness, in a deliberate way, the power of our unconscious mind
  2. A prerequisite of making progress is that we leave the known behind, being willing to break some established rules about the way things happen
  3. As the pace of change increases, we’ll face more and more ‘unknown unknowns’ and that will place a new emphasis on the need for creativity in forward planning
  4. We have an extraordinary level of ability to convince ourselves that we are right, and to ignore contradictory evidence, even when we are profoundly wrong
  5. It is impossible to experience ‘reality’ or to be ‘objective’ because everything is processed unconsciously prior to awareness. By shifting our perception of ‘reality’ we will automatically start to make new choices
  6. Stress drives maladaptive choices and decision, so the reduction of stress will tend to improve decision making
  7. Making decisions creatively, rather than by using a problem-solving approach, requires us to use our mind differently, learning to apply the conscious mind to the task of balancing and regulating the brain so that its different parts operate together more effectively. The key qualities of mind required are tenacity, openness and insightfulness
  8. Developing the mind is an inside-out challenge, necessitating that we harness the neuroplastic nature of the brain by learning to focus attention with intention
  9. As we practise intentional attention, we can predictably and reliably evolve our brain to reduce reactivity and become more responsive, flexible and adaptive
  10. Learning to pay deliberate attention may be the most valuable skill we can develop, because it underpins and maximises not just our capacity for creative decision making but also any other form of adaptive learning

From The Little Black Book of Decision Making

This is an edited extract from The Little Black Book of Decision Making: Making Complex Decisions with Confidence in a Fast-Moving World, by Michael Nicholas
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