Decision Education: A Call to Arms

“Extensive research has shown that people tend to lead either from their head or their heart. Unless we make a conscious choice to achieve the appropriate balance, we tend to do what comes naturally and solve the problem from within our comfort zone” (from the Decision Education Foundation)

Those of us on the analytical side of the spectrum often completely discount feelings in making decisions. But it’s worth noting that the Decision Education Foundation (DEF) was founded by Stanford professors who pioneered the science of decision analysis and whose work spawned an entire consulting industry that helps companies make billion dollar decisions. DEF is adamant about the importance of using both head and heart:

Using your heart means taking into account what you really care about, which often includes the effect on other people and retaining their respect and trust. It means listening to your emotions and intuition. If you have taken your heart into account in the appropriate way, a decision feels right.

Those on the other side of the spectrum often feel overwhelmed or scared by any sort of analysis.  They shoot from the hip all the time, justifying this approach by falsely believing that analysis somehow ruins or blocks their ability to tap into their keen intuition.

Both extremes of the spectrum are simply ego-protecting rationalizations that lead people to make bad decisions.

If you find this pedantic and obvious, consider the following: Do you think you are a better than average decision maker (like most people think of themselves)? Do you believe you are a great decision maker?

Were you ever taught in school or at home how to make a good decision or to even know what goes into making a good decision? Given that there is a whole science and industry of decision making, do you think you can possibly compare in skill to someone who has been formally trained?

Over the course the course of your lifetime, how many thousands of decisions (big and small) impact your health, wealth and happiness? No matter how good you think you are at making decisions, don’t you think you could benefit from at least a little formal training?

As a poker player, entrepreneur and investor, I spend a good portion of my life making decisions that directly and immediately impact my finances. And I was never taught the principles of good decision making that DEF teaches. I’ve had to learn what I know from hard knocks and self-directed study.  I wish it were different, that I had learned about decision science school.

Would it it surprise you to know that outside of DEF there is not one non-profit teaching the general public what’s been learned by the decision analysis community over the last 30 years? And it’s not like it’s hard to learn: DEF focuses on middle-school students! Actually they concluded after methodical testing that that’s where it needs to be taught for a person to learn the habits for life.

This is the same conclusion that Self Enhancement, Inc. has come to after 30 years of working with disadvantaged youth in their after school programs. In fact, SEI won’t accept a new student beyond middle school age because in their experience it becomes a lot tougher to make an impact.

While it’s too late for you become a good decision maker, don’t you think you owe it to your children to make sure they learn how? Just kidding, it’s never too late :-) But it is 90% habit and only 10% conceptual. Following a methodology is key to learning a new habit.

I learned about DEF when Annie Duke asked me to play in a poker fundraiser from them (she serves on the Board of Directors). As soon as I saw their tagline (“Better decisions, better lives”) I knew I had to support them. If you feel similarly, I want to hear from you in the blog comments, and if you have any ideas at all on how to support the mission, how to improve the message, questions about or how you can support your local schools in decision education, I especially want to hear from you.

And if you are somehow still skeptical about how learning more about science of decision making can directly improve your own life, check out Annie’s kick-ass talk from The Feast this past October.

  • Alex Golubev

    the cause of and solution to all of life’s problems. Homer said it about beer, but i think it applies here. It is a bit sickening that this isn’t taught or studied extensively. My guess is that those who understand the importance aren’t as likely to be well adjusted and influential members of the “sick” society, so only during breakthroughs in communications technologies do programs like this stand a chance to gain the importance that they should have. you know very well that old agencies fight back, so isn’t the solution in replicators? are there any in our education systems at any level?