Can We Trust the Decision Researchers?

The Heuristics and Biases (HB) movement has had a tremendous influence and has generated the field of Behavioral Economics. However, the HB community has its own set of biases.

From Chimps to Champs

There seems to be a growing perception that experts are hopelessly biased and shouldn't be trusted to make important decisions. This belief is clearly mistaken and also dangerous.

The Difference-Makers

Do you want to change a dysfunctional organizational culture? Speeches, values statements — none of these make a dent. But there may be a simple strategy that works.

Spotting the Gaps

It is important to notice what doesn't happen: events that were expected but didn't occur. Why are some people better at this than others? What does it take to spot the omissions?

Missing Pieces

We use our expectancies to detect events that were supposed to happen but didn't. Parents worry when it gets "too quiet" in the next room where the young children are playing.

Getting Unstuck

We all know the frustration of hitting an impasse, unable to find a solution to an important problem. Studying examples of people who were successful can provide some useful hints.


A mindset is a belief that orients the way we handle situations. Our mindsets help us spot opportunities but they can trap us in self-defeating cycles.


Do you want to help your children learn to see other points of view? The "Switch!" game might do the trick.

How to Defuse a Dispute

Disagreements don't have to lead to antagonism. A few strategies for taking the other person's perspective should defuse many disputes.

The Naturalistic Decision Making Approach

The Naturalistic Decision Making (NDM) movement started in 1989. It has radically changed our views of decision-making, sense-making, planning, uncertainty management, and insight.

The Art of Being Stupid

When interacting with others — trainees, customers, children — we should try to take their perspective by dialing back our knowledge and expertise to achieve a beginner's mind.

Know Yourself

We are often told that it's important to know ourselves, but what does that mean? By observing others and noticing similarities and differences, we may gain some insight.

Don't Decide Like Martians

When faced with life-and-death choices, teams often decide on a course of action by voting. However, the voting method may bully some members of a team into going along with risks that they really don't want to take. The film "The Martian" illustrates this strategy, team decision making at its worst.

The Pro-Mortem Method

The Pro-Mortem exercise lets a team pin down what success would look like. It takes little time to run, but has a considerable payoff. When the exercise is over, the team members are happily surprised by the kinds of impact their project can have.

The Decision Scorecard

Personnel evaluations are often painful, for the supervisor and for the employee. Instead of evaluating the person, why not evaluate the decisions? List the decisions the person made during the year and review how they got made and how they turned out. This approach turns a critical conversation into a collaborative one, driven by curiosity.

The Nine Levers for Better Decisions

To help people make better decisions, we have nine levers to use: Clarifying goals, structuring the decision, training, checklists, incentives, behavioral engineering, picking the right people, using information technology, and designing better organizations. We don't have to be trapped by habits of using only one lever, such as training or incentives.

Teaching Through Insights

What would it look like to view teaching as a process of creating insights? Here are 6 ideas: diagnosing why students are confused, helping students unlearn mistaken beliefs, encouraging students to pursue their own feedback, anticipating knowledge shields and breaking through them, working through the three pathways to insight, and promoting an insight stance.

Organizational Insights

Organizations are usually driven by a desire to cut errors and increase efficiency, and while these goals are important, they aren't enough. Organizations also need to foster discoveries. They can help workers adopt an Insight Stance by changing how they conduct progress reviews and how they react to conflicts and confusions.

The Insight Stance

Perhaps there is a way to boost insights. The Insight Stance is a mindset we can adopt to prepare ourselves to make discoveries. In contrast to other mindsets such as being critical of new ideas,or letting our minds wander, the Insight Stance is an active and curious approach to encounters and events. It uses the pathways that lead to insights.

Boost Your Insights, Part I

This first of a 2-part discussion of ways to increase insights reviews of 5 popular ideas: increase swirl, encourage failures, be open to new ideas, apply critical thinking, and get into a quiet, meditative mood. Each suggestion has some unfortunate drawbacks. Assessing their strengths and limits may provide suggestions for a better strategy, to be described in Part II.

Cash Cowards

Companies are happy to rely on cash cows—products or services that continually attract loyal customers—but when it is time to phase out the cash cows, corporate leaders often lose their nerve. This cowardice afflicts even the high flyers like Kodak, Encyclopedia Brittanica and, in the latest surprising example, Microsoft.

Playing to Win

Conventional wisdom about making better judgments and decisions consists of methods for reducing biases and errors. But this is a defensive strategy, playing not to lose. We can do better. By trying to foster insights and discoveries, we can play to win.

Second Thoughts

I have now had two years to reflect on my book Seeing What Others Don't. I am pleased with the book, but there are a number of ways I would change it if I had the chance. I would make a small but important modification in the model of insight, and I would add much more material about ways to foster insights.


We are supposed to make decisions based on the degree to which the competing options let us achieve our goals. But that's a myth. We often make tough choices based on showstoppers—issues that have little to do with our goals. We are opportunistic decision makers, not rational ones.

The Inside Story

An attempt to train social skills isn't as successful as expected, but the numbers don't make sense. To sort out what went wrong, you have to look beyond the statistics and try to imagine how the participants in the study were thinking.

The Insight Test

Our ability to create insights is critical for innovation and adaptation. Otherwise we would remain stuck in mental ruts formed over our lifetime. Insights let us see things in new ways. Many people, however, have the wrong ideas about insights. Here is a short test, only 12 items, to assess your knowledge of insights.

A Cure for Confusion

Breakdowns in Common Ground create pernicious confusion because people believe they are on the same wavelength even though they aren't. These breakdowns often arise when people toss around ambiguous phrases like "leadership problem." A two-step correction is to first spot these verbal land mines and second dismantle them using stories and examples.

Management by Discovery

We are told to define our goal ahead of time and build a plan to reach it, an approach sometimes called Management by Objectives. But that advice is impossible when we are in complex situations facing Wicked Problems. Instead, we need to use use Management by Discovery to gain insights about our goal as we try to reach it.

Avoiding Innovation Failures

Tempted by how-to books to adopt a business innovation? The underlying idea may be a good one. But misapplying a new idea or introducing it in the wrong place can absorb time and resources that could have been better spent. How could you discern which ideas might help you and which won’t? Ask this question: “For this to work here, what must be true?

Data versus Insights

Big Data, the use of massive amounts of data to reveal consumer preferences, offers many exciting possibilities. However, number crunching isn't the same as gaining insights. Big Data approaches usually rely on algorithms for capturing trends but insights arise when we spot anomalies that challenge the beliefs of the researchers and the data analysts.