In this first article, Peter Cronin explains why our previous experience and intuition won’t serve us well in a different working environment, and what to do about it.

When making decisions in a new, or different working environment our experience and intuition won’t serve us well.

You might have seen in yourself, or others, that with the move to a different working environment it’s become harder to make decisions. You might be thinking, “What? Why would decision-making be harder just because I’m working from home?”

What happens is that we draw on our past experiences to make decisions, and the environment we are in has a direct effect on this. So, when we are in a new environment, all of a sudden, drawing on our past experiences to make good decisions becomes harder.

If you haven’t read Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, find the time to do that while you’re working remotely. It will make you a clearer and better decision-maker.

The Brain and Decision-Making: System One and System Two

One of the key things that Kahneman identifies in the book, and through his research, is the concept of System One and System Two in the brain.

System One is basically your autopilot, it’s the things you can do without having to think about them.

Once you learn to drive a car with a manual gearshift, you don’t have to think about changing gears – you just do it – this is System One.

Whereas when you first learn to drive a car with a manual gear shift, it will be System Two – you’re having to focus on it.

System Two is the things you have to think about and focus on while doing them.

Your brain likes to stay in System One as much as possible for biological reasons, it’s less expensive on energy, so your brain can make decisions easier and quicker. That’s useful for a lot of things, however, it can be not-so-useful when you find yourself in a new environment, for example, working from home (and having your team also working remotely, from different locations).

System One influences us when we’re on autopilot. Unfortunately, the same mechanisms that drive the System One in the brain influence us when we should indeed be using System Two, i.e. when we’re making engaged logical decisions that require us to analyse a situation without being influenced by past biases/heuristics.

How to make better, clearer decisions in new environments

The only way to really make decisions that break out of that autopilot, System One mould, is to:

  • Surface the underlying beliefs; try to identify the assumptions you’re making about how things are or need to be; and
  • Logically challenge those assumptions; focus on how they could be instead, to be able to make clearer decisions and get the outcomes you want or get entirely new outcomes.
  • Identify the underlying driver for each action (assuming you are choosing between doing A or doing B); why you may want each of those things in the first place.

Slowing down to think about the underlying drivers of a decision engages System Two to a greater degree. Take the time to identify the reason why you want to take each action. It might be because you’ll get a certain outcome, or because those specific action address important, underlying needs. Assuming the two actions (the A and the B) are mutually exclusive, so you have to do one or the other, sometimes it is easier to identify if there is a third alternative option that would get both outcomes (rather than choosing between one or the other) – an action C if you will.

  • Identify the underlying beliefs and assumptions, “I need to do this action to get this outcome, or to serve this important need because…”

You need to be able to get clear on why it is you think that, for example, in order to have great team culture you have to be in the office. Write out the all the reasons you think, “I need to ______ to get ______“ is true.

For example, in order to have great team culture you have to be in the office because:

  • you’ve got to be around people, or
  • you’ve got to see the reactions on people’s faces, or
  • you’ve got to be able to give them that physical pat on the back, or
  • you’ve got to be able to catch them doing the right thing

You’ll likely find they’re all legitimate reasons, but we need to identify all of them explicitly in order to be able to find alternative options.

  • What about making decisions with others? Follow the previous two steps for each side of the argument (what they want vs. what you want) and use this information to create a new solution that creates a win-win solution.

What about using all of this with others? It’s hard enough being able to use these techniques to make better decisions by yourself. Doing this process with, or for, others is even trickier. You might be on one side of an argument; i.e. you want to do one action while somebody else wants to do a different action.

Follow the same process for each side of the argument: identify what each of your goals are, what each of you are trying to get to, and again, what the assumptions are that you’re both making.

Being able to use this decision-making process with others gives you a huge advantage over others in your industry.

Want to hear more about this, and other decision making tools?

Over the next three articles in our Working from Home series, we’ll explain how you can use these three techniques to make better decisions in a bit more depth. Using these techniques, you will be able to make better, clearer decisions in this different environment that you’re in now, and also in any environment that you’re in in the future.

Can’t wait?

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