So how do we increase our ability to reach good decisions? The four emotional situations described before -misleading experiences, misleading prejudgments, inappropriate self-interest and inappropriate attachments-are dubbed "red flags" by the authors. These conditions need to be understood and identified. If they are spotted before a decision is made and the decision process can be modified to address them, then the risk of making a bad choice can be reduced.
However, there's another factor to consider. The authors note that people are prone to focusing on one plan at a time. They call this "one-plan-at-a-time decision making." This is how this process works: You assess a situation, come up with an action plan, imagine how the plan will work out, and consider another plan only if a problem with the first plan surfaces. This doesn't provide a lot of time to correct a problem. "If our brains naturally questioned and challenged our assessments and judgments or normally compared multiple options...we would be much better at spotting errors in our thinking and correcting them," the authors say. But this is not how our brains typically work.
In fact the authors' research showed that in over 80 percent of the cases they examined, where they had personal contact with the prime decision maker, he or she appeared to arrive at their course of action "without careful weighing of the options." They were following the one-plan-at-a-time model.
Another problem faced by decision makers is they are often influenced by the short-term results of their actions. That can doom many decisions in the long-term. "Short-term interests can be overly influential in our decisions-triumphing not only over the broader interests involved in the decision (shareholders, other members of the organization, etc.) but even over the long-term interests of the decision maker," say the authors.
The good news is that safeguards can be put into place to reduce the risk of a flawed decision. The authors identify four categories of safeguards:
1. Experience, data and analysis—Provide decision makers with new experiences, data or analysis to reduce the risk of a poor decision from the get-go.
2. Group debate and challenge—Form a group that can debate and challenge assumptions being made before a decision is reached. Identify alternate ways to frame the decision to challenge the group's thinking processes.
3. Governance—Approve proposals by a governance team. This is a vital step in spotting flawed judgments before they are implemented.
4. Monitoring—Track the progress of a decision once it is made to help spot a wrong decision before it does too much damage. Knowing that monitoring will take place can encourage decisions makers to be more careful about their recommendations.
Safeguards can be effective in reducing bad decisions. They can also slow down the decision-making process or bog it down in bureaucracy. So it is important to pick the safeguards that are most appropriate for your organization and the style of its leaders. The authors know that decision makers have biases that can negatively influence their judgment. You can't stop all bad decisions, but with the proper safeguards in place, you can reduce the risk.