How would you rate your decision making skills? There’s much to consider here; the timeliness of your decisions, the factors you keep in mind when making them, the critical thinking you apply, and the advice you get from others all play a role in how “effective” your decisions turn out to be.
There are ways to improve your decision making skills, mostly through practice and experience, but ultimately, there’s an upper limit to the effectiveness of your decisions (at least in most fields).
For example, in the field of cancer treatment, research is always improving, but there’s still so much we don’t know about the disease that it’s nearly impossible to make an ideal decision, confidently, for a given patient. You probably won’t have all the information before making a choice, or won’t be able to calculate the exact odds of success.
Now, new technologies may be removing the upper bounds of those limitations, heralding us into an era where it’s possible to succeed with superhuman decision making abilities.
What kinds of technologies lend themselves to better decision making, and how are they doing it?
- Big data. First, new tech is giving us the ability to measure more things and store more data than ever before. One of the most important factors in making a “good” decision is having all the information in front of you, and with big data, there’s a wealth of information in front of anyone with the tools to gather it. Big data can turn qualitative factors like mood or satisfaction into quantitative factors, and can help you see the effects of more variables before moving forward.
- Data visualizations. All that data is great—if you’re a statistician. For the rest of us, it can seem like a blur of numbers, and confirmation bias may skew our perceptions of those numbers. Data visualization technology presents the most important numbers to us in an intuitive, visual way, so we can quickly assess the situation and make a judgment using our instincts, rather than quantitative reasoning.
- New tech also helps us simulate possible consequences of our decisions, allowing us to forecast potential developments and get a first-hand look at the end results of our successes or failures.
- Objective reasoning. Most decisions you’ll make have objective, measurable stakes, such as analyzing financial risk or calculating potential gains. New tools give you the power to filter out your subjective biases and focus clearly on your bottom-line gains.
Key Areas of Development
So where are these new decision making tools having the biggest impact?
- Medical diagnoses and treatment. Proper medical treatment requires the consideration of hundreds of variables, including the patient’s medical history, current symptoms, personal tolerances, and environmental factors. That’s a lot for any physician to assess alone; that’s why new diagnostic algorithms and treatment plans rely on new tech to handle the number crunching.
- Financial investments. To many, the stock market is a confusing and intimidating place, yet investing is one of the smartest things you can do with your money. That’s why new software based around robo-advisors is helping people visualize data on their investments, and guiding them to smarter long-term choices, most capable of generating a strong return.
- Research and development. Companies are also using simulation tech to fuel new research and development efforts, whether that’s experimenting with a new frame for a commercial airliner or gauging the safety of autonomous vehicle software.
Are there any downsides to utilizing these tech advancements for better decision making?
- One of the biggest potential problems is overconfidence in our technology. If we grow too confident in our algorithms’ abilities to make decisions for us, we’ll lose our own critical thinking skills. Plus, since our algorithms were created by humans, they’re naturally prone to errors too—and we might overlook those errors if we get too comfortable.
- The paradox of data. More data is generally a good thing when making decisions, but too much data can complicate your decision with too many variables. It could lead you to decision paralysis, or introduce new biases that weren’t there, since you’ll now have data points to confirm your assumptions.
- Knowing the questions to ask. To use new decision making tools effectively, you need to know how to ask the right questions. If you ask the wrong questions, or ask them in the wrong way, even the best data visualizations and simulations won’t be able to provide you with the right information.
We’re still decades away from living in an era where most or all of our decisions are optimized by algorithms and data banks. But we’re making steady progress toward that new reality, with tools that make decision making both easier and more effective.