Two for One-a novel about having choices (The Two for One series Book 1)

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Mostly from distortions and biases—a whole series of mental flaws—that sabotage our reasoning. The higher the stakes of your decision, the higher the risk of getting caught in a thinking trap. Worse, these traps can amplify one another—compounding flaws in our reasoning. Here are five of the nine traps:. Giving disproportionate weight to the first information you receive Example:.

The Anchoring Trap

A marketer projects future product sales by looking only at past sales figures. In a fast-moving marketplace, poor forecasts result. Favoring alternatives that perpetuate the existing situation Example:.

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A key merger stumbles because the acquiring company avoids imposing a new management structure on the acquired company. Making choices in a way that justifies past, flawed choices Example:. Bankers who originate problem loans keep advancing more funds to the debtors, to protect their earlier decisions. But the loans fail anyway. Seeking information that supports your existing point of view Example:.

A CEO considering canceling a plant expansion asks an acquaintance, who canceled such an expansion, for advice. She, of course, says to cancel.

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Being overly influenced by vivid memories when estimating Example:. Lawyers overestimate probability of large awards because the media aggressively publicizes massive awards. Lawyers then offer too large settlements. Making decisions is the most important job of any executive. Bad decisions can damage a business and a career, sometimes irreparably.

So where do bad decisions come from? In many cases, they can be traced back to the way the decisions were made—the alternatives were not clearly defined, the right information was not collected, the costs and benefits were not accurately weighed. The way the human brain works can sabotage our decisions. Researchers have been studying the way our minds function in making decisions for half a century.

This research, in the laboratory and in the field, has revealed that we use unconscious routines to cope with the complexity inherent in most decisions. These routines, known as heuristics , serve us well in most situations. In judging distance, for example, our minds frequently rely on a heuristic that equates clarity with proximity. The clearer an object appears, the closer we judge it to be. The fuzzier it appears, the farther away we assume it must be.

This simple mental shortcut helps us to make the continuous stream of distance judgments required to navigate the world. Yet, like most heuristics, it is not foolproof. On days that are hazier than normal, our eyes will tend to trick our minds into thinking that things are more distant than they actually are. Because the resulting distortion poses few dangers for most of us, we can safely ignore it. For airline pilots, though, the distortion can be catastrophic.

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Researchers have identified a whole series of such flaws in the way we think in making decisions. Some, like the heuristic for clarity, are sensory misperceptions. Others take the form of biases. Others appear simply as irrational anomalies in our thinking. What makes all these traps so dangerous is their invisibility.

Because they are hardwired into our thinking process, we fail to recognize them—even as we fall right into them. For executives, whose success hinges on the many day-to-day decisions they make or approve, the psychological traps are especially dangerous. They can undermine everything from new-product development to acquisition and divestiture strategy to succession planning.

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  • While no one can rid his or her mind of these ingrained flaws, anyone can follow the lead of airline pilots and learn to understand the traps and compensate for them. In this article, we examine a number of well-documented psychological traps that are particularly likely to undermine business decisions.

    In addition to reviewing the causes and manifestations of these traps, we offer some specific ways managers can guard against them. Executives who attempt to familiarize themselves with these traps and the diverse forms they take will be better able to ensure that the decisions they make are sound and that the recommendations proposed by subordinates or associates are reliable.

    In half the cases, we used 35 million in the first question; in the other half, we used million. Without fail, the answers to the second question increase by many millions when the larger figure is used in the first question. This simple test illustrates the common and often pernicious mental phenomenon known as anchoring. When considering a decision, the mind gives disproportionate weight to the first information it receives. Initial impressions, estimates, or data anchor subsequent thoughts and judgments.

    Anchors take many guises. They can be as simple and seemingly innocuous as a comment offered by a colleague or a statistic appearing in the morning newspaper. In business, one of the most common types of anchors is a past event or trend.

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    A marketer attempting to project the sales of a product for the coming year often begins by looking at the sales volumes for past years. The old numbers become anchors, which the forecaster then adjusts based on other factors. This approach, while it may lead to a reasonably accurate estimate, tends to give too much weight to past events and not enough weight to other factors. In situations characterized by rapid changes in the marketplace, historical anchors can lead to poor forecasts and, in turn, misguided choices. Because anchors can establish the terms on which a decision will be made, they are often used as a bargaining tactic by savvy negotiators.

    Consider the experience of a large consulting firm that was searching for new office space in San Francisco. Although the price was at the high end of current market rates, the consultants made a relatively modest counteroffer. They proposed an initial price in the midrange of market rates and asked the owners to share in the renovation expenses, but they accepted all the other terms. The consultants had fallen into the anchoring trap, and as a result, they ended up paying a lot more for the space than they had to.

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    The effect of anchors in decision making has been documented in thousands of experiments. Anchors influence the decisions not only of managers, but also of accountants and engineers, bankers and lawyers, consultants and stock analysts. But managers who are aware of the dangers of anchors can reduce their impact by using the following techniques:.

    We all like to believe that we make decisions rationally and objectively. But the fact is, we all carry biases, and those biases influence the choices we make.

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    • Decision makers display, for example, a strong bias toward alternatives that perpetuate the status quo. On a broad scale, we can see this tendency whenever a radically new product is introduced. On a more familiar level, you may have succumbed to this bias in your personal financial decisions. People sometimes, for example, inherit shares of stock that they would never have bought themselves. They find the status quo comfortable, and they avoid taking action that would upset it. The source of the status-quo trap lies deep within our psyches, in our desire to protect our egos from damage.