Problem Analysis vs. Decision Making

It's important to differentiate between problem analysis and decision making. The concepts are completely separate of one another. Problem analysis must be done first, then the information gathered in that process may be used towards decision making.

Problem Analysis

• Analyze performance, what should the results against what they actually are ?

• Problems are merely deviations from performance standards

• Problem must be precisely identified and described

• Problems are caused by some change from a distinctive feature

• Something can always be used to distinguish between what has and hasn't been effected by a cause

• Causes to problems can be deducted from relevant changes found in analyzing the problem

• Most likely cause to a problem is the one that exactly explains all the facts.

Decision Making

• Objectives must first be established

• Objectives must be classified and placed in order of importance

• Alternative actions must be developed

• The alternative must be evaluated against all the objectives

• The alternative that is able to achieve all the objectives is the tentative decision

• The tentative decision is evaluated for more possible consequences

• The decisive actions are taken and additional actions are taken to prevent any adverse consequences from becoming problems and starting both systems (problem analysis and decision making) all over again.

Everyday Techniques

Some of the decision making techniques people use in everyday life include:

• Listing the advantages and disadvantages of each option, popularized by Plato and Benjamin Franklin

• Choosing the alternative with the highest probability-weighted utility for each alternative (see Decision Analysis)

• Satisfying: Accepting the first option that seems like it might achieve the desired result

• Acquiesce to a person in authority or an "expert", just following orders

• Flipism: Flipping a coin, cutting a deck of playing cards and other random or coincidence methods

• Prayer, tarot cards, astrology, augurs, revelation, or other forms of divination

Cognitive and Personal Biases

Biases can creep into our decision making processes. Many different people have made a decision about the same question (e.g., "Should I have a doctor look at this troubling breast cancer symptom I've discovered?" "Why did I ignore the evidence that the project was going over budget?") and then craft potential cognitive interventions aimed at improving decision making outcomes. Below is a list of some of the more commonly debated cognitive biases.

• Individuals who are highly defensive show significantly greater left prefrontal cortex activity as measured by EEG than do less defensive individuals.

• Premature termination of search for evidence - We tend to accept the first alternative that looks like it might work.

• Inertia - Unwillingness to change thought patterns that we have used in the past in the face of new circumstances.

• Selective perception - We actively screen-out information that we do not think is important. In one demonstration of this effect, discounting of arguments with which one disagrees (by judging them as untrue or irrelevant) was decreased by selective activation of right prefrontal cortex.

• Wishful thinking or optimism bias - We tend to want to see things in a positive light and this can distort our perception and thinking.

• Choice-supportive bias occurs when we distort our memories of chosen and rejected options to make the chosen options seem more attractive.

• Regency - We tend to place more attention on more recent information and either ignore or forget more distant information. (See semantic priming.) The opposite effect in the first set of data or other information is termed Primacy effect (Plous, 1993).

• Repetition bias - A willingness to believe what we have been told most often and by the greatest number of different of sources.

• Anchoring and adjustment - Decisions are unduly influenced by initial information that shapes our view of subsequent information.

• Group think - Peer pressure to conform to the opinions held by the group.

• Source credibility bias - We reject something if we have a bias against the person, organization, or group to which the person belongs: We are inclined to accept a statement by someone we like.

• Incremental decision making and escalating commitment - We look at a decision as a small step in a process and this tends to perpetuate a series of similar decisions. This can be contrasted with zero-based decision making.

• Attribution asymmetry - We tend to attribute our success to our abilities and talents, but we attribute our failures to bad luck and external factors. We attribute other's success to good luck and their failures to their mistakes.

• Role fulfillment (Self Fulfilling Prophecy) - We conform to the decision making expectations that others have of someone in our position.

• Underestimating uncertainty and the illusion of control - We tend to underestimate future uncertainty because we tend to believe we have more control over events than we really do. We believe we have control to minimize potential problems in our decisions.

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