A Close Decision

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Some people have a terrible habit when they are making a decision.  They place all their attention on decisions that don’t matter, and ignore the ones that do matter.

Imagine the spectrum of problems that you are faced with today as a gradient from white to black (see the picture on the post as an example).  The problems with a clear and correct answer are at the extreme left and right (pure white and pure black).  Problems that have less clear answers (or perhaps several correct answers) are the shades of gray.  Near the center are the problems that have answers that could really go either way.

Some examples:
Buy car insurance before driving: clear yes!
Get your favorite food when going out with friends:  probably yes, but you could also experiment and try a new dish.  Also you could share dishes with your friends.  And where should you go?
Paint your living room aqua marine blue or subtropical cool cyan:  Oh, this is a tough one!  The aqua marine goes so well with the drapes.  But you might change them in the future. The subtropical cool is more popular in the circle of people that you are likely to invite over.  But that is likely to change if another color becomes hot.  Oh what to do …. what to do!
Wear this shirt to the gathering?  Well, it is a little loud.  But it will make a statement.  Hmmm… well probably not for this gathering.
Skip employer match in 401k:  Clear no.

The rational way to approach decisions is to identify those questions at the extreme ends and spend the time to make sure you get the answers right.  That’s because the answers matter.  In the examples, there are serious consequences if someone gets the answers at the extremes wrong.  You need insurance, and there is free money in the match.  And yet there are people who drive without insurance and skip contributing to their 401k to get the match.  And they don’t give it much thought.

But the questions that have “close” answers like choosing wall color can completely absorb some peoples thoughts for days on end.  But in reality, there is no penalty for choosing the wrong answer.  In a truly close decision, a coin flip is a quick and expedient way to arrive at the answer.

The Independent Penguin doesn’t mind a good gamble on a coin flip.   But he makes sure the results don’t matter much one way or the other.



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