Dissecting decision making

Decision making is “the cognitive process resulting in the selection of a belief or a course of action among several alternative possibilities. Every decision-making process produces a final choice, which may or may not prompt action.”

Here are 13 things to consider about your decision making:

Opportunity costs – when you make a choice you are ignoring the other potential alternatives. Another way to say this is, “If you say yes to this what are you saying no to?” If you contribute to your 401K today rather than spending the extra money to buy a boat (weekend trips to Lake Powell), that is an opportunity cost.

Sunk costs fallacy – is simply a cost that has been incurred and cannot be recovered. Going to college to become a CPA, and then later finding out you hate being a CPA, do you stick it out because you already invested tens of thousands of dollars or do you pivot? Saying goodbye to the hours of studying and dollars spent on the wrong degree is a sunk cost you can’t recover.

Loss aversion – losing something hurts more than gaining something. If you were to lose $5 it hurts way more than the joys of finding $5. 

Post decision dissonance – People on the racetrack feel much more confident about their horse to be victorious after they have placed a bet. Why? Because human beings are obsessed with appearing consistent. Once we make a decision, we will put pressure on ourselves to behave consistently with that commitment. Subsequently, we build a narrative to defend and justify these decisions that will drive us to do things we would normally not do to create predictable outcomes.

Confirmation bias – we don’t look at data and change our minds. No, we cherry-pick information to confirm a story we already tell ourselves.

Cultivation theory – the effects of long-term exposure to living in a fantasy world (television, the internet, video games, social media…), you will begin to align reality with what is portrayed in that fantasy world. So, if you spend a bunch of time watching Law & Order, you will begin to believe that New York City is more dangerous than it actually is.

Poverty – Poverty is a psychological problem (and a system error), not an issue of character. 

Choice Architects – people that influence the choices and outcomes of others. Particularly, in a positive way, where people are left better off no matter what they decide. Asking a two-year-old what they want for a snack, “Do you want a marshmallow or carrot?”—They will almost always choose the marshmallow. Instead, present a choice between an apple or carrot and the two-year-old is left better off no matter what they choose.

Memes – how an idea or behavior spreads from one person to the next. Planking, Gangnam Style, the ice bucket challenge are examples of internet memes. But it can explain why a few parents choose not to vaccinate their children.

The Big Sort – Why are there so many Type A personalities on Wallstreet? Because Type A personalities are sorting themselves in and Type B personalities are sorting out. As Bill Bishop has pointed out, Americans have become more ideologically polarized as they seek to live with like-minded individuals. How do you stand out from a crowd where everyone is the same? Act and sound a little bit more radical than the person next to you. Creating echo chambers. People like us do stuff like this.

The Werther effect – A phenomenon where a publicized suicide triggers more suicides. Another way to think about this is that many people think about jay-walking but will often choose to wait for the light to change. Except, when we see someone else do it we have now gained the permission to follow-through what we have already been thinking about doing.

The Dunning-Kruger effect – people tend to overestimate their abilities while underestimating the challenge. “I need to get to this meeting in 10 minutes. The office is 12 minutes away. I can make it.”

The infinite game – there are two types of games. Finite games are played with rules, boundaries, winners and losers. Soccer is a finite game. Racing someone to get on a freeway a finite game. The other type is an infinite game. You don’t play the infinite game to win. No, you play the game to keep playing. Someone doesn’t have to lose in order for you to win.

Responsibility of admins

What should be censored?

It is right to censor a video on how to make a pipe bomb?

Of course, it is. For good reason.

There are things we don’t want in our culture because it can jeopardize the safety of the people around us.

It’s clear, there are things we accept, things we don’t and others that we are not sure about.

We can all agree that writing 7,500 words on whether Boeing MAX is spelled with lowercase or uppercase letters on Wikipedia is a waste of time.

Someone has to make a choice on what must be censored. Often, we leave that to a designated admin.

The responsibility of admins isn’t to drive the conversation, it isn’t to get people to the same conclusion as you. No, its to make sure the conversation stays within the guardrails that have been set by the community.

Over time, the conversation evolves. The guardrails that were originally set need to be expanded. This mistake, that admins make far too often, is they believe it’s their job to tighten the rules to keep the conversation as it should.

Cannon changes. We adopt new norms, new rules and new practices.

Most admins would rather raise their status and appear to be right than to change. The best admins though? They are the ones you never hear of.

Consider the source

You shouldn’t believe anything you read or hear on the internet (or podcast or television show) without first questioning the source.

What’s the source?

What’s it for? 

Headlines are designed to increase clicks. Breaking news is designed to keep us on the hook. The selfish marketer’s job today is trying to steal our attention.

What is truth then?

Because facts, data isn’t what changes people’s minds. It’s been 50 years since we landed on the moon and there are still skeptics that it ever happened.

There is so much information to process. So much to take in. Who can we trust?

The truth is, information comes to us as a map already drawn. Our minds are usually already made up—we see what we want to see. Factor in the sorting that occurs and now we have an echo chamber.

“Pick your own truth” is more prevalent today than it ever has been before. It’s a problem that isn’t going away any time soon.

The key to our future isn’t shoving more facts…we need to tell better stories. Not the kind for quick clicks. The kind that will change the heart.

The reason why we have more skeptics today about landing on the moon is that we don’t tell enough stories about landing on it.

“Born this way” and “became this way”

Superman was born the way he is. He won the genetic lottery because no one else was born with the abilities he has.

Batman, on the other hand, is totally different. He had to train really hard to become Batman. Even then, he had to be born in the right circumstances since not many of us inherit millions of dollars. But even so, who’s to say we would do something good with so much abundance?

Sometimes you are born with the right stuff to become Superman. Regardless, you can still pick yourself to do the things that others deem impossible.

Yes, the zip code you are born in matters but it doesn’t have to determine your destiny either.

Something > nothing

Give someone a microphone and ask them to say something…

Have your friend sit down in front of a camera and have them share what’s in their heart…

Plugin your phone in the car and ask the person in the back seat what song they want to listen to…

And the answer is often, “I’m not sure” or  “You pick”.

When given the choice to say something, we often choose nothing.


We hesitate because we are concerned about what other people might think, we don’t want to be judged.

We want to know what the “right” answer is before we speak up and stand out.

We want to say things that others want to hear.

We have a million choices to choose from. Are you telling me you have nothing worth saying?

Same something. Pick any song. You have the music in you. There isn’t a wrong answer. As long as you are heard.

Minorities are not the problem

There are 327 million people that live in the US. Of that:

  • Immigrants that illegally enter this country make up of about 3% of the population.
  • LGBTQ represents roughly 4%.
  • 12% of the population has a disability.
  • People that are homeless are about a tenth of a percent of the US population.
  • For single mothers, one of the most disadvantaged groups in the US, nearly 30% of their families live under the poverty line.
  • Blacks are the largest racial minority at 12%.

By contrast:

  • The total White population makes up 76% of the nation.
  • 70% of the US is Christian.
  • 21% of the US population (1 and 5) receive welfare.
  • The majority of Americans believe that welfare recipients are black. They’re not. For instance, if you look at SNAP, overwhelmingly it is families that are white with children where parents work.

The problem is that our perception doesn’t match reality.

We have built a culture—a culture skewed by cultural cognition and confirmation bias— where minorities are viewed as a threat to the economy. This simply isn’t true. The US is estimated to have a 21 trillion dollar GDP, making it the world’s largest economy. There is plenty of money in the system to go around.

People who live below the poverty line, that have limited access to loans and insurance, with no resume, lack of education…have limited to no political power. Except perhaps for one minority class. The top 5%.

The top 5% of income earners control 66% of the US wealth. Three men (Bezos, Gates and Buffett) own as much as the bottom 50%.

A shocking study found that ordinary Americans have no impact whatsoever on the making of national policy in our country (even with majority support). The study also concluded that rich individuals and business-controlled interest groups largely shape policy outcomes in the United States.

In addition, as Thomas Ferguson has pointed out, elections are bought. The average Senator has to raise on average $14,000 dollars every single day, just to stay in office. One of the easiest ways to raise that kind of cash is to turn to lobbyists, who make big donations and organize fundraisers for elected officials in order to buy political influence.

The reason why this is a problem is that wealth creates political power and influence which enhances changes in the rules that create more wealth for the rich.

This is a system problem.

Until we learn to see, we can’t work through conflicts of interest.

Fellow travelers

If you don’t see yourself flying to South Korea, then you would never look for plane flights to South Korea. And if you never see yourself living in New York, then you wouldn’t think about leaving Utah.

It’s not for everyone. But it may be for you. And luckily, for a few others.

Find the others.

Find the others that are also enrolled in your journey to go to places you want to go.

Of course, I’m not just talking about literally traveling to South Korea. I’m also talking about applying to give a TED talk. Or going on a humanitarian mission in a third world country. Or starting a non-profit.

The places where people are scared to go, we talk about it, we dream about it, but not many of us actually find a way to do it.

One of the big misconceptions about change is that you need a lot of people (20% of the population) to get behind something (doing 80% of the word). But in fact, it is smaller than that. That change happens when a small group of people come together with a common goal (2% doing 98% of the work) to make something happen.

From fashion to epidemics, change happens when we can find the others.

The dangers of objectivism

Since the 1980s, deregulation has allowed CEOs to go from making 30 times the average worker to 361. Meanwhile, median wages for the working class has completely stagnated. Income is the same today as it was 40 years ago.

So, where did this selfish mentality develop? The dog-eat-dog world where only the “strong” will survive?

Well, it came from two novels written in the 40s and 50s by Ayn Rand. The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged promoted that selfishness was a virtue and that we should ignore altruism.

At the time, coming out of World War II and the Great Depression, Americans were not interested in doing things on their own. This is why we saw one of the greatest 30-year economic periods of prosperity including the acceleration of civil rights and women’s rights, expansion of healthcare, development of highway systems…

Fast forward to today, the top eight income earners of the world now have the same amount as the bottom half of income earners in the world. Two years ago, 82% of the world’s wealth went to the top 1%. This year, 60 of America’s biggest companies paid no federal taxes. It’s been a decade since the housing market crash and no one went to jail for the illegal activity that took place.


Why do Americans continue to buy this idea of more lavish gifts for the rich?

As Noam Chomsky has poignantly pointed out, politicians continue to draw lines and highlight the differences between voters on cultural issues such as gun control and abortion. Us versus them. All the while pulling the wool over voter’s eyes.

Deregulation has changed everything. Instead, of looking around and asking, “How can I help?” instead we embrace this mindset of the Gordon Gekko mentality of “Greed is good.” We continue to see the rich become richer while the poor staying the same and affectively eliminating the middle class.

It matters because poverty changes our decision making. It matters because there is enough money in the system to share, to raise the bottom (and no we don’t need socialism to do it). It matters because when the top controls this much of the wealth, they can change the rules of the game.

The pie isn’t fixed. Somebody doesn’t have to lose in order for others to win. We are the wealthiest nation in human history.

Nobody should be working full time and not be making it.


“Figuring it out”

Ask a college student the difficult question of what they are going to do with their life and it’s likely you will hear, “I’m still trying to figure that out.”

The funny thing is if you ask a 60-year-old the same question as they approach retirement many will still admit, “I’m still trying to figure that out.”

You know what figuring out really means?

It means:

  • I am scared to make a decision.
  • I am too nervous to tell you what I really think because I’m afraid I’ll be judged.
  • I am looking to the left and right and waiting to see what my peers will do.
  • I don’t want to act out of alignment and choose the wrong thing.

Figuring it out is another form of hiding. As a culture, we can do a better job not creating this expectation that we have to have A to Z mapped out before we decide. Instead, we should just expect an answer on what the next step looks like.

We learn as we go. If we stop going then we stop learning.

Pick yourself

“The batteries in that clock are not working. Somebody should change it.”

Yes, and that person might as well be you.

It’s easy to point out the stuff that doesn’t work.

Government, democracy, climate change, healthcare…

What’s hard is doing the emotional work of putting yourself out there, standing up, standing out, being seen, doing work that might fail.

It’s tempting to sit back and wait for someone else to fix the problem or to clean up the mess.

But picking yourself has never been easier to do.

So, why not you?

What don’t you have that others have?

Because more education, more time, more money, more resources…these are excuses we use to hide.

The challenge isn’t pointing out what’s wrong with the world.

The challenge is to care enough to fix it. To make it better.