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Think Twice, At Least: An Argument for Delaying Decisions and Keeping Unfinished Tasks 

Eitan Reich
June 22, 2021

Do you move fast? Are you agile? You work in sprints, right? 

Well, maybe you should reconsider your approach, slowly. 

There’s research that shows exactly why you might want to slow down when making crucial decisions and completing tasks. 

Let me explain.

Over 60 years ago, researchers studied a group of the "most creative" architects of their time and compared them with other "less creative"architects (their peers defined “creative”). They were trying to  identify the key differences between the two groups in an effort to understand  what spurs creativity. One of the findings showed that the "more creative" architects took longer to make up their minds and make decisions.

This interesting finding, which correlates creativity level and delaying decision-making, is connected to a known effect called the "Zeigarnik effect.” Named after psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik, it expresses  the fact that people remember unfinished or interrupted tasks better than a completed task. Zeigarnik started testing this effect while observing the waiters in the café she frequented. They were able to better recollect the unpaid and unserved orders over those they had completed. That is, once their task was completed (everyone had been served and paid), the waiters were unable to remember any details of the orders.  

This evidence shows that holding a task within our minds or postponing an important decision-making moment for as long as possible could have a positive effect on the quality, creativity, richness, and even real-life accuracy of our decisions.

Further support for delaying decision-making comes from the research of the “crowd within” mechanism. Research has shown that the  aggregation of several judgments made by the same person indeed improves accuracy over a single judgment. It also shows how the "crowd within" mechanism works better when an individual takes time between making their judgements, showcasing why it’s a good idea to “take it slow.” ” However, the average of many judgments made by the same person is measured to be barely better than the average of just two unique judgments made by two different people.

The "crowd within" mechanism tries to mimic the “wisdom of crowds”  effect, when averaging many estimations. It was coined by James Surowiecki, a columnist for the New Yorker and author of a book on the topic. The “wisdom of crowds” refers to how the average of many independent estimations is more accurate than any one individual estimation. Sir Francis Galton, a British social scientist, first tested this approach in 1906, when he attended a farmers' fair in Plymouth. He was intrigued by a weight guessing contest– the goal of the contest was to guess the weight of an ox up for sale. Around 800 people entered the contest and wrote their anonymous guesses on tickets. 

After the contest, Galton performed statistical analysis on the tickets.  He discovered that the average guess of all the entrants was remarkably close to the actual weight of the butchered ox. In fact, it was under by only 1lb for an ox that weighed 1,198 lbs. The collective guess was not only better than the actual winner of the contest, but it was also more accurate than the guesses made by cattle experts at the fair. 

In 2009, Herzon and Hertwig, two cognitive and rationality researchers from the Max Planck Institute, built upon the “wisdom of crowds” and “crowd within wisdom” to develop a system known as “dialectical bootstrapping.”  Their system showed that it’s possible to increase the accuracy of an individual’s judgement when the person is actively urged to think differently before generating their second judgement.. 

Dialectical bootstrapping is a simple procedure that is likely to improve your decisions. Here’s how it works: assume your first decision is wrong. Now, think about a few reasons why it could be the case. Which assumptions and considerations could have been wrong? Was the first decision too optimistic? Or too pessimistic? Based on this new perspective, make a second, alternative estimate.

Herzog and Hertwig found that the average of the two estimates is more accurate than the first estimate. It’s also more accurate than the average of two estimates made without using the "assume you're wrong" manipulation.

We, at Q – Behavioral Thinking, are helping managers and companies to slow their thinking and decision-making processes by asking them deliberate questions grounded on behavioral insights. 

Don’t think twice before reaching out to us so that we can help you slow down your decision-making processes in thoughtful and intelligent ways.

Ask us anything.
We’re in the business of finding answers!

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