To decide quickly, or not to decide quickly… That is the question – the question that, unfortunately, not many people ask themselves.
What we mean by that is, normally, people have a specific strategy when making decisions and they stick by it, quite unconsciously.
On the other side, most courses, webinars and seminars on decision making hammer into their participants the idea that making up their minds quickly is the key to achieve success.
What we say is, as usual, it depends.
For example, it depends on the situation. Not only the context, but the specific situation. Think about a project at work, or a startup or company you manage: this is the context. Within the context, you will have to make many – many! – decisions.
Integrating a feature in an app; choosing the position of the call-to-action button on a website; selecting the target persona for your product; assigning tasks to different people; managing internal conflicts; making special offers to strategic customers; getting donuts or cake for the team meeting… These are all situations within the context of your project, which require decisions.
Some of the situations will require thoughtful decisions, the result of a structured and analytical thinking process. Some others will benefit from a quick, “rip-off-the-bandaid” decision.
So, you will have pondered over decisions regarding the selection of a target persona, or the assignment of tasks. From this, you will decide quickly about the snack for a meeting or about the position of a button on the website (in this last case, you will ideally run a couple of tests and quickly find the best solution through the feedback of your users).
It also works like this for personal life contexts and situations. Let’s say you have a child and you are facing the dilemma of sweets.
Deciding if, how much, and when your child should get something sweet to eat should be the result of the aforementioned structured and analytical thinking process. Giving them a piece of cake, a chocolate bar or some cookies, on the other side, can be decided quickly. As long as it falls within the parameters you set before.
What usually happens, though, is different. You will find people jumping head first into complex problems, drawing conclusions and making decisions without even considering the potential complexities and intricacies of the situation. Also, you will find people that Murphy’s law always places in front of you in line: those that take twenty minutes to choose an ice cream flavour.
And, of course, you will find everything in between.
The missing link: yet another learning style
If you have been following us for a while, you know that we like to talk about learning styles. We do, indeed.
We do, because learning styles let us identify the most effective paths to efficiency and effectiveness in what we (you) do. They work for learning, but also for communicating, or working in a team, finding better ways of managing time, exploiting the right motivation, making decisions, and so on.
So, what styles stand behind your decision-making process? A pretty obvious pair: Impulsive and Reflective.
Impulsive people are the golden standard for typical decision-making courses. Put in front of a situation that requires the selection of an action or a path, they draw quick conclusions and set sail immediately. They don’t waste much time taking into consideration possible causes and results.
Reflective people, on the other hand, are the proud descendants of Greek philosophers. They analyse and dissect every situation, studying all possible effects and consequences of their actions. Great chess players!
These are the two extremes of a pretty wide spectrum, but they should give you a clear picture of what we mean when we use the terms impulsive and reflective.
Naturally, there is not a better style in absolute terms. If you are competing for the World Chess Championship, you’d better be very reflective. If you are leading or part of a team that adopts an agile project management style, you should definitely have an impulsive vein in you.
The right position is somewhere in the middle. Where, in the middle?
Decisions seen in context
As you might have realised, we love the answer “it depends”. In this case, the best style depends on many factors, but they can be split into two categories:
- external elements
- internal elements
The external context is an easy concept to grasp: are you playing chess or choosing an icecream flavour, right now? As already mentioned, ideally you should be able to switch between Impulsive and Reflective depending on the situation.
Sometimes it’s easier, like challenging yourself to always choose a pizza in less than a minute. The consequences can’t be that bad for you (unless you choose a pineapple pizza in front or an Italian person, or a shellfish pizza while being allergic to seafood).
At times, though, it is much more difficult. For example forcing yourself to stop and analyse the potential results of a series of actions, if you normally jump head first in certain situations.
The difficulty of switching is higher, the more extreme your position is on the spectrum Impulsive-Reflective. If you are 40% Impulsive and 60% Reflective it will be much easier to adopt a specific style according to the context than if you are 95% Reflective or vice versa.
The good news is that switching styles can be trained!
The internal context, on the other side, is more related to the “the relativity of truth”.
Human beings are complex systems and thinking about the decision making process only in terms of “Impulsive v. Reflective” would be very limiting (this is, by the way, one of the main reasons why we like the answer “it depends”).
When making a decision all your thinking and learning styles influence your choices. Exactly like when you face a challenge at work or learn something new.
No two cognitive profiles are the same, so pure modelling of others and cold application of techniques can only take you so far. It is different, if you understand all (or as many as possible) facets of your cognitive and learning profile.
If you have read some of our other articles you can play around with this a little bit: can you imagine the difference between a reflective person with a monarchic thinking style and a reflective person with an anarchic thinking style? Or an Impulsive-Judicial person versus an Impulsive-Executive one?
[If you haven’t read them and have no idea of what the Cognitive Profile and Sternberg’s Theory are, have a look at the article we published on the topic.
If you then want to learn more about the different elements that shape your Cognitive Profile, you can read about Global and Analytical learners and about Intuitive and Systematic learners. Or find out more about the Functions of Government that characterise us and about the difference between Integrative and Instrumental motivation]
The first step toward ultimate decision making!
Understanding how different thinking styles interact with your being impulsive or reflective will help you develop the best strategies for your decision making process. While you are trying to find out everything you can about your cognitive profile, though, you can already put something in motion to improve your decision making.
Tame your impulses
If by reading this article you realised that there are really many instances in which you are impulsive, get pen and paper and spend a few minutes on this exercise:
- identify a moment where you could/should have been more reflective,
- start a list:
- what consequences did it have, both positive and negative?
- how could you have acted/decided differently?
- try being more reflective, at least on paper:
- what should you have considered before making that decision?
- what advantages would have brought being a bit (or a lot) more reflective?
Put it on mute (it being that little doubting and analysing little voice in your head)
If, on the other hand, you realised that yes, you do tend to overthink also simple decisions, try this:
- make a list of situations where you definitely need to be more impulsive
- choose one (don’t overthink it!) that you experience on a regular basis
- challenge yourself (ideally, find an accountability partner to help you) to decide more quickly
- give yourself a time limit (like 30 seconds) and a little punishment (like giving up the object of the challenge, easy if it is a pizza, maybe not possible in other occasions).
As we said, everyone has a specific cognitive profile, made of many elements, that make it unique. Some examples? Global and Analytical learners have different ways to see and approach concepts.
Intuitive and Systematic learners need different processes to assimilate information.
Your Mental Self-Government plays an essential role in how you structure your learning and working method.
The Functions of Government help you understand how you can collaborate better with your teammates.
Even the way you find Motivation affects the way you face challenges and the duration and impact of your results.
Actually, each combination of the characteristics above needs a personalised and tailored approach.
You can, naturally, learn everything about cognitive profiles and learning styles, to perform an analysis of your own. Or you can do it with professionals, who have dedicated years to the study of these topics.
At Genius in 21 Days, we work with you to
- understand your cognitive profile
- implement strategies to exploit it best
- help you to integrate the best of your, and other, cognitive styles into your approach.
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