Decision making ability is not like IQ.

Don’t be fooled, unlike IQ, your decision making ability is not something that is only going to perform at a certain level.  You actually have the opportunity to utilize a few simple ideas to polish your ability; better decisions will lead to more success, an increased sense of confidence from making successful decisions, and a “vicious circle” of excellent choices.

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Smart, solid, decision making ability really relies on the degree to which the person making the decision is able to discern the variables that will affect the outcome of the decision.  If that sounds like a lot of gibberish, take heart, it mostly is – since we, as humans, are often unable to separate our hearts from our heads.

Say again, Spock?

Computers, on the other hand, to paraphrase Spock said in multiple Star Trek episodes –  they “don’t feel”.  So a computer will always be able to make a more objective evaluation of the pros and cons, and should – at least in theory and depending upon how it was programmed – make smart decisions and appear to have solid decision making ability.

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Anyway, moving myself back on topic, let’s walk through a quick three step program (no, not one of those programs!) and then you can spend the rest of the afternoon practicing your decision making ability.  You can even A/B test it if you write your off the cuff answers down to made up problems, then use my evaluation method and see whether or not your answers change and your decisions are the same in both cases…  after all, you may already have such fantastic decision making ability that you don’t need my help!

1 – I like to make lists.

I admit it, I’m a natural list maker, and my OCD feeds on having lots of lists around with all kinds of information on them.  This is a GREAT attribute in formulating decisions properly; having lists around, especially repetitive lists, will generally cement an idea (hopefully a good idea) in your mind, and you can then move on without having to start from scratch in your evaluation each time.

What do I mean by a repetitive list?  In sailboat racing, it would be the list of things that happens over and over – literally every time we race.  Things like:

  • Boats start.
  • Boats round first mark.
  • Boats round second mark.
  • Boats round last mark.
  • Boats finish.

While this may look like a stupid, overly simple, list of stuff to do, I can assure that enough people foul up this list during enough races over the course of a season that sometimes being the only boat that actually manages to get this list done in the correct order and by using the proper marks in the specific way instructed means that you are the winning boat.  Sounds crazy, eh?  Oh well, it’s true.

2 – I like to revise my lists.

In the first item in my list above, there is a lot that goes into boats starting.  The innumerable amount of factors including wind, currents, other boats in the same start, other boats not in the same start, timing the line, timing the approach to the line, making sure not to crap your pants when you think your decision making ability sucks and you just blew the start with a minute left to go (yep, happens all the time) – these are the fine print to the list items and they are constantly being revised.


As soon as something changes in my original list – a boat isn’t where it was (or where I expect it to be), perhaps, then I have to reevaluate my options.  Again, you want to do this almost by rote repetition, since spending a lot of time thinking about these super basic things is not going to leave you a lot of time to work out the finer points of your real decisions.

And alas, the boats start, hopefully with no one hitting each other.  One boat really nails the start, a couple of others do well, and some get squirted out the back, with nothing short of a miracle going to help them get up to the front.  Or so you might think, but unless you revise your list – quickly and automatically – you won’t be able to make decisions based on sound information and input, you’ll just be falling prey to the deceptive, non-decision making of using bad input.

I’m not going to go into a long dissertation here about why it doesn’t matter if you are DFL at the start (since it really does matter in some fleets), but I am going to say that if you panic, you won’t be making decent decisions, and if you give up then you have just made the biggest, the worst and the kind of decision that should lead you to poke yourself in the eye with a dull stick and twist it.

3 – I like to judge my decisions immediately.

This is a tough one.  If you make a decision that needs some time to come to fruition, you still want to judge that decision immediately, but in this context, immediately is not the first five seconds after you pull the trigger.  Unless you are attempting to shoot someone, in which case, five seconds might be a little bit long to decide if you hit them or not, especially if they also have a gun.

In keeping with the sailing analogy we made for the lists portion of my three step better decision making ability advice, let’s jump ahead and say that we had a decent start, but we’re not entirely sure that we’re going the correct way.  And that it’s a super long course, so the distance to the next mark is considerable, and if we are making the choice to be on the wrong side, we are going to be eating dirt from a lot of boats when we meet again.

I always keep my fingers crossed and hope that someone will get spit out the back and be forced to cross with other boats, it’s the fastest way to see who is making gains and who is losing.  If I have a fair idea of how that’s going, I don’t normally wait, especially early on, for other boats to actually cross in front of me.  If I think that is likely, then I’ll tack and lead them back to the side of the course they want, even if it’s not the side of the course that I want.

Unless the other good boats are all going the way I’m going and then maybe I will say screw it and instead of leading anyone back, we’ll just keep trucking out to the port tack layline and hope for the best.  Crazy, eh?

BONUS ITEM – Win your side.

At the end of it all, there is this point.  Whatever side you choose – right side, left side, right side, wrong side – you have to win your side.  So you need to constantly revise your lists, you need to be aware and awake and keep your eyes peeled for any change in the course or anything that isn’t as expected.

As soon as you see the most minor variance, you know that it’s time to make a decision, and you best have your revised lists in order so you have a shot at making a good choice.

Just remember that choosing to make no choice is also a choice.  Can’t get away from that.