In our previous posts covering Mental Models I introduced the concept of two categories of mental models that are defaults in most people. The first was the Rational model. The rational model thinker is driven by a need to gather as much information as possible to understand their world and to make a decision. Rational thinkers are driven to gain as much information, data, insight and understanding of a situation BEFORE acting. In the most recent post I outlined some of the significant problems we can encounter in a system that is too rooted in the Rational Model.
The second was what has been called Mixed-scanning. Those who ascribe to a mixed scanning approach willobtain enough information that they think allows them to make a good decision for the next step. They will then move forward and try to gain as much information, data, insight and understanding of a situation AS and AFTER acting. Subsequent decisions will then get made in light of these new conditions.
In the Paradox of Choice, Barry Schwartz introduces the concept of two types of decision makers: maximizers and satisficers. Maximizers are rational model types who will agonize over every detail in fear that they will miss some ideal choice. Satisficers will figure out the minimum they feel they need to make a decision. Interestingly Schwartz’s research shows that satisfiers tend to be happier. I will note that there has been some backlash among the intellectual community to some of Schwartz’s findings. Some saying less is more, some saying more is more, some saying it depends. I think the key is in the level of uncertainty that one feels around the choices. If uncertainty of options is very low (e.g. if rational info gathering is “complete”), then the number of options is immaterial. However, if large uncertainty exists around choices, and sufficient information gathering is time consuming, impractical or impossible (or all three!) then the number of choices needs to be small. I contend that this how mixed-scanning works best. Understand enough to move forward with a critical next step (Observe and Orient from our OODA-loop example in Post Number 1), take that step (Decide and Act from OODA-loop) and then check, and redo it moving forward.
So to understand how we make crucial decisions to integrate our life and work, we need to get clear on our comfort zone for making those decisions. Then we need to be clear on the context of the decision, and realize we may need to act in the one that is outside our “normal” comfort zone. Ultimately if we’re going to focus and integrate the “system” of our lives, decision making will need to occur all the time, and at every level. The challenge is on us to decide and move forward. In fact, we may need to only decide on a few key critical next actions and then have the discipline to stop and think about where we go next.