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I don't know

Improving Systems and Habits

Scott Miker is the author of several books that describe how to use systems and habits to improve.  This free blog provides articles that to help understand the principles related to building systems.  

I don't know

Scott Miker

I’m reading a great book right now called Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don’t Have All the Facts by Annie Duke. Duke is a poker professional who goes into the way our mind thinks when faced with chance outcomes.

One section of the book dives into the idea of not knowing something. Duke explains that admitting when we don’t know something is frowned upon in most aspects of life, such as in our schooling. But admitting when we don’t know something is crucial to being able to make better decisions.

Duke also emphasizes the process of making a decision and separating that from the outcome. Did we make a great decision but it didn’t work out as planned? If so, was the decision a sound one? We can make a sound decision and still have it result in a poor outcome.

About the process of decision-making and admitting when we don’t know something she says, “What makes a decision great is not that it has a great outcome. A great decision is the result of a good process, and that process must include an attempt to accurately represent our own state of knowledge. That state of knowledge, in turn, is some variation of ‘I’m not sure.’”

But most of us don’t follow her logic. Instead we simply look at the outcome and then use that to determine if we made a mistake and if we should have done something better. That is our process.

When it comes to not knowing something, we all assume we know everything we need to. Therefore, we go through life working to validate our beliefs of the world. Instead of exploring with an open mind, we take what we think and look for validations.

These two (overvaluing the outcome and refusing to admit we may not know) are a recipe for poor decision-making. Yet that is exactly what most of us do!

Therefore, if we want to improve we have to be able to separate out the decision from the outcome. We can’t look at a situation and judge it solely from the outcome. We have to look at it from the decision point. What information did we have? Did we make an incorrect assumption or did we just run into bad luck? Was there chance involved and the ball bounced our way so we assume we made the right decision?

Improvement in our decision-making is possible by changing the process by which we make decisions. We can all change and improve as long as we know what to do differently. If we are deciding what to change from flawed information, then we won’t be able to improve.

Thinking in Bets is a great book for anyone who has to make decisions and wants to improve their ability to make decisions in the future. It can help us make sense of random acts and bad luck but still put responsibility on us to be able to admit when we don’t know something so we don’t form an inaccurate assumption and then look to validate that assumption.