And Never Was

Science can assist us in becoming more skillful choosers, but at its core,

choice remains an art. Sheena Iyengar, in The Art of Choosing, 2010

I believe it is hard to think of many things in life that are more important than decision making. But we are never taught how to decide. Growing up we are required to learn reading, writing, math, science and history — but not decision making. I spent my early professional life trying to change that. Yet today I don’t think many, if any, public schools have such a requirement. So I have changed to writing, speaking and teaching decision making to adults. But decision making itself has changed.

Throughout all my professional years, I have learned a lot about the process of deciding, and so have many others. In 1962 I proposed a conceptual decision making framework that was “by the book” — totally rational, including determining the probability of possible outcomes. It was well accepted because it was the standard operating procedure of the time. In 1989 I published my “I have changed my mind’ article about deciding (in the same journal (J. of Counseling Psychology). And in 1991 I wrote a book: Creative Decision Making, Using Positive Uncertainty.

During the same time, radical new discoveries about the decision making process changed the “book” on deciding.

  • In today’s complex world individuals cannot possibly process or even obtain all the information they need to make fully rational decisions. (1978 Nobel Prize: Herbert Simon)
  • Human decision-making makers, under uncertainty, are apt to engage in a number of fallacies, belief biases and systematic errors, so we ought to be aware of these and seek workarounds ( Nobel Prize, 2002: Daniel Kahneman)
  • Probably the biggest lesson learned over these years is about the power of unconscious thinking. Willis Harman (1998) pointed out that the unconscious mind can be considered a gold mind or a rubbish heap.

Once again this means self-awareness is the key. Not just being aware of, but understanding our decision fallacies and our systematic errors (and our belief biases). What my life-long disconcerting lessons are teaching me is that decision making isn’t what it use to be — and probably never was. And that changing my mind isn’t something to be avoided. This is why self-awareness (The Process of Illumination) and open-mindedness (Positive Uncertainty) will continue to be my themes.

We now know that we employ two types of decision processes: intuitive thinking, which comes from our experience and expertise and rational thinking, which comes from decision rules and prescribed procedures (called Type 1 and Type 2 by Daniel Kahneman). We are finally realizing that in today’s complex, constantly changing reality humans are not well equipped to make rational, logical, coherent decisions. We are not as rational and coherent as we think we are. And the world is not as rational and coherent as we think it is. Deciding becomes more of an art than a science.





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  1. T says:


    Given the updates in your thinking and research does your book still hold the same relevancy towards better and more effective decision making?

    Have you read Gary cline’s work with fire dept and emergency response teams?



    • hbgelatt says:

      Thanks T for your questions. I think my 4 paradoxical principles are still relevant and my advice to “Beware of your dogma and treat intuition as intelligence” is very relevant. I believe my book didn’t emphasize the interconnectedness of everything enough. I still think it is a mystery.
      Thanks again, H B
      H B

      • hbgelatt says:

        I forgot to add that I did read about the intuition of firefighters and Gary Kline in Daniel Kahneman’s book: Thinking, fast and Slow.

  2. Eugene Unger says:

    Yes it is! Irrationally incoherent , sure of my decisions? Less is more. More or less. Aging is good. Shocking but good.



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