Making better decisions: reflection and learning

Planning is getting harder—it is increasingly difficult to predict outcomes that will come from an action. This is one of the reasons why human judgment is becoming more valuable. Improving your judgment and updating your intuition is an important part of the decision making cycle. Now that you’ve also collected data on your decision making process—capturing the probabilities you assign to predictions and reasoning backwards from high and low forecasts—it’s time to put these together with what outcomes actually happened and learn.

Postmortems and post-project reviews have an air of checkbox mentality to them—it’s easy to go through a formulated process without truly engaging in reflection—but this tends not to happen when people are asked to assign new values to the subjective judgments that were applied upstream in the decision process. By being asked to update intuitions, teams are more likely to be authentic in their review and engage in deeper reflection of biases they held and knowledge gaps they had.

This is a time to use the team—get good at precision questioning and practice skills in deep listening. Be able to take perspective and commit to constructive confrontation. Listen to learn, not to make a point.

Three golden rules to encourage learning:

  • Avoid hindsight bias which muddies even the best reflection.
  • Both misses and false alarms can inform what needs to be improved.
  • Be honest about when you got lucky, update causal factors that weren’t known.
  • Check for spurious correlations that won’t translate in future.

Learning requires doing. Allow for practice, failure and celebration of well-calibrated risk taking rather than unwittingly rewarding luck. Valuing a Baysian-type process of updating priors is something to encourage—ask “what did I used to believe and how has this belief changed?”

This article is one in a series of hacks, tips and tricks for making better decisions.

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