Tuesday, 24 August 2010

The science of decision making and the art of possibility

Dan Gilbert argues that one of the reasons we aren't great at making decisions is because we tend to compare against our past experience, not against what's possible. We have a a rich understanding of choices taken, but only an abstract idea of the choice not taken.

Usually, our future possibilities are not that well defined in our minds, so it's our experience of the past which dictate the decisions we make for the future. We're bad at estimating the odds of our future gains and the value of our present pleasures.

Conservatism - and consumerism - is usually the result.

The conductor and teacher Ben Zander deals with this cognitive bias by giving all of his students an ‘A’ for their report for the year, in the first two weeks of the course.

In return for this exceptional grade, Zander asks his students to write a letter dated the following year, in which they describe the person they have become to justify this grade. He then asks them to fall passionately in love with this person.

This is a perfect example of how articulating a future, and imagining it more vividly, allows us to live in possibility rather than being defined by the patterns of the past.

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