As I was reading Thinking Fast and Slow, my mind spun back to many times I've made bad decisions. In my profession, marketing, every big decision must deal with both complexity and uncertainty. And yet we're make so many decisions based on a hunch, a gut feeling, or a reflex. Our decisions are unfairly influenced by recent events or impressions. These bad decisions are accompanied by a strong sense of confidence because we're using our fast-thinking "System 1" which jumps to conclusions using heuristics, or decision-making short-cuts. With System 1, confidence does not reflect quality, it reflects the strength of the story inside your head, which could well be a fantasy.
There is a way to avoid the pitfalls of decision-making with
heuristics, according to Kahneman:
"Constantly questioning our own thinking would be impossibly tedious, and System 2 is much too slow and inefficient to serve as a substitute for System 1 in making routine decisions. The best we can do is a compromise: learn to recognize situations in which mistakes are likely and try harder to avoid significant mistakes when the stakes are high."
You may also enjoy a more light-hearted look at the topic with David McRaney's book and blog: You Are Not So Smart. He talks about these decision-making fantasies as 'confabulations.'
The next time you're facing a decision where either chance or unknowable influences will play a major role, take your best hunch and poke a hole in it. Are you substituting an easy question for a hard one? Are you primed by a preference for the familiar? Have you really tried to learn as much as you can, or are you assuming that you have all the facts? Are you taking a crazy risk to avoid a looming loss? Do you realize how reckless most people become in those circumstances? Think twice because it's NOT all right!