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Decision Science

Decisions. We make decisions all the time, every day, every hour, almost on a minute-by-minute basis. Some decisions are very minor in nature - what pair of shoes will you wear today? Should you take an umbrella with you when you go out? Others are of great importance - should I go through with marrying my fiancé? Does it make sense for me to change jobs? There are many, many choices to be made in life, and there are various ways that these choices can be made.

The basic definition of "decision" is to make a choice between two or more options for a given course of action.

Most of the time, you make decisions and you don't give conscious thought to what you are doing. You shift position in your chair; you pick up a French fry from your plate and put it in your mouth; you step around a hole in the sidewalk; you walk down the streets that lead to your house. If you had to weigh and balance each of these decisions individually, you'd never be able to accomplish anything; the mental effort would be overwhelming, and the number of possible options endless. Fortunately, our brains are well-prepared to segregate decisions into various categories, so that we don't become overloaded.

When there's a decision required that doesn't
A multi-choice decision requiring a lot of thought
Decision engineering
really require direct thought or evaluation, your brain determines what to do without your even being aware of what's happening. This kind of decision is referred to as "autonomic"; it's kind of like your senses connect directly to your limbs and direct them without conscious thought on your part. Frederick Taylor, an industrial "efficiency" expert of the 19th century, is famous for telling his workers "you are not paid to think". The same is true with autonomic decisions - it doesn't pay to think about them, your brain simply goes on "autopilot" and takes action based on past experience that doesn't require any remembering or evaluating at the conscious level.

The other most common kind of decision is called "rational". It requires conscious effort, and is dependent on a multitude of criteria: experience, circumstances, anticipated results, priorities, and various other considerations. Rational decisions require thought; they must be considered, evaluated, and judged based on what we deem appropriate for the given situation.

There are numerous ways these decisions can be accomplished:

  • "Consensus" - the majority in a group agree upon a given course of action.
  • "Voting" - individuals are allowed to choose their preferred outcome, and the outcome receiving the most votes is adopted.
  • "Participative decision-making", in which a group is called upon to make a decision.
  • "Decision engineering", which relies upon tools like logic maps, flow charts, and probability tables to arrive at the appropriate choice.

Of course, there needs to be a distinction made between decisions at a business level, and at an individual level. It's unlikely that you will call for a conference of your friends to thrash out selecting the restaurant where you'll all have dinner tonight.

When making individual decisions, there are multiple methods available:

Listing the advantages and disadvantages (benefits and costs, pros and cons) of each option, as suggested by Benjamin Franklin, and which is the basis for

  • Prioritizing; selecting the alternative which offers the best results.
  • Satisfaction; picking the option which provides the greatest level of happiness / fulfillment.
  • Following; yielding to the opinion of an expert of a person in authority.
  • Randomization; flipping a coin, cutting cards, throwing dice, or anything which generates a random output.
How we make our decisions is directly connected to our personality type. Psychologists recognize a number of personality traits as defined by the "Myers-Briggs Type Indicator":

  • thinking versus feeling;
  • extroversion versus introversion;
  • judgment versus perception;
  • sensing versus intuition.
Since there is a great deal of subjective input that goes into many decisions, finding a way to assist in quantifying and evaluating the choices can be very helpful. This is where the Ben Franklin Method as offered by can be a very valuable tool. Franklin came up with a way to assign various values to each option possible for a given decision. By making a table of the options and values, it is possible to arrive at a result which is the mathematically optimal solution.

For decisions which are not of an "autonomic" nature (choices we need to give thought to) there are many, many criteria which can be considered. What is most affordable; what is most acceptable, what fits my needs best; what promises the best possible outcome. All of these factors can be quantified, and given a weighting to represent their relative importance. With the proper means to take these factors and weightings into account and make the appropriate calculations, the answer which best fits your needs and desires can be determined.

Ben Franklin came up with an ingenious way of taking all of the variables involved in a given decision and giving them "values" which could be mathematically evaluated. Before spreadsheets were invented, he realized that it was possible to assign "weighted values" to the various criteria necessary to make a choice, and to then arrive at a decision based on a logical comparison of all the alternatives. This is what is all about; it lets you select from a wide variety of options regarding decisions (and you can also enter your own options) and let the website do the work necessary to arrive at a selection which best reflects your desires and needs.