Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams writes an insightful, controversial, adult, and humorous eponymous blog. After a day of making decisions with only part of the information he felt he needed, he recently asked, "How do you make descisions with incomplete knowledge?"
It made me reflect on all of the little rules one develops over the years for handling decisions without the benefit of sufficient data. You always start with the easy questions, such as...
- What do the experts say you should do?
- How much experience do the experts have with this question?
- Does the expert have a conflict of interest?
- What's the worst thing that could happen?
- How easy is it to switch course if you choose wrong?
- What information can you find on the Internet?
- Who has made this choice before? Were they satisfied?
- If I delay, will I learn something more that is useful?
- Is there a way to do a limited test?
- Does the decision make logical and mathematical sense?
- Do the experts make this choice with their own money?
- What do the well-informed people in my situation usually do?
- What does the competing vendor say about this vendor?
- Have I seen all of the alternatives?
Those are the questions with relatively clear or quantitative answers. It's the next category of questions that intrigue me, because they involve pattern recognition, and I can't always tell whether I am being influenced by fear and bias, or keen intuition informed by my experience. The questions in this category look like this...
- Does this situation follow a pattern I've seen in scams?
- Is someone giving answers that seem intentionally vague?
- Is information conspicuously missing?
- Is someone trying to rush me?
- Could someone unscrupulous easily take advantage of me?
- Have I regretted this sort of decision before?
- How do I imagine other people will react to this decision?
- If the expert is so smart, why isn't he rich?
What questions would you add to the list?
I don't think a day goes by that I don't have to make quick choices based on limited information. Even big choices that are well-reseached often leave one a little concerned about evidence that may have a political or hidden bias.
Personally, I think we've moved beyond having a complete knowledge of any situation that requires a decision - there is just too much to sift through online. An educated guess is about as good as it gets. And increasingly it seems like this uncertainty that comes with partical knowledge leads to delay - even delay on important decisions that impact our students.
But Scott's set of questions is a good one to have our students and staff think about when it comes to evaluating information.
Is it possible to make decisions anymore that are "beyond the shadow of a doubt?"