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Hold it right there… you’re probably wrong

“Quick decisions are unsafe decisions.”  ~ Sophocles

Faced with an onslaught of daily decisions, big and small, we typically rely on our own intuition to guide us through life, from one point to the next. We’ve likely all experienced moments of confusion, even pain, when we’ve made a confident decision only to discover we were wrong. How do we overcome these apparent breakdowns in thinking and protect ourselves and others from poor decision-making?

Some years back I was introduced to the following test, comprised of three short mathematical questions (go ahead and give them a try):

  1. A bat and a ball cost $1.10 in total. The bat costs $1.00 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?
  2. If it takes 5 machines 5 minutes to make 5 widgets, how long would it take 100 machines to make 100 widgets?
  3. In a lake, there is a patch of lily pads. Every day, the patch doubles in size. If it takes 48 days for the patch to cover the entire lake, how long would it take for the patch to cover half of the lake?

While the answers to these questions may come easily, if you’re like most people (83% of us to be precise) you answered at least one incorrectly. Even more shocking is the fact that approximately 1 in 3 answer incorrectly on all three questions (the correct answers can be found below). So why do so many of us, even the ‘bright ones’ (only 48% of MIT students answered all questions correctly) struggle with these seemingly straightforward questions? The answer – we naturally seek the simple solution and rarely take the time necessary to suppress our own instinct and engage in deliberate reflection.

There’s a great framework out there that has time and again proven useful as I’ve encountered life’s many decision points, large and small. It’s helped me to give pause, to challenge my own assumptions, and accept the fact that my initial thinking may be flawed. Just remember WRAP: Widen your options; Reality test your assumptions; Attain some distance; Prepare to be wrong.

The next time you need to make an important decision, take a moment. Pause. Reflect on your thinking. Adopting this approach should help you improve the quality of your decision-making, a development that will surely enhance your life and those of the people who rely on you the most.

CORRECT ANSWERS: 1) 5 cents (not 10); 2) 5 minutes (not 100); 3) 47 days (not 24)