How Your Decision Making Really Works

I was listening to a podcast when I heard an odd but intriguing expression. “When you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail! There was no definition, but I was blown away by the metaphor. I thought, “Am I a hammer and what are all these nails?”

The law of the instrument, otherwise known as Maslow’s hammer, is a cognitive bias that involves an over-reliance on a familiar tool. As Abraham Maslow said in 1966,  “I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.” Is this why smart people often make dumb decisions?

A hammer is not the most appropriate tool for every purpose. Yet a person with only a hammer is likely to try and fix everything using their hammer. often without even considering other options. We prefer to make do with what we have rather than looking for a better alternatives.

All I could think about what was only knowing how to solve problems one way and thinking that every problem should be treated the same way. Apparently, I was on the right track. I found some examples and definitions in an article by Stephen Arra, Einstellung Effect: What You Already Know Can Hurt You. Einstellung is a German word that translates to setting, mindset, or attitude. The brain attempts to work efficiently by referring to past solutions without giving the current problem much thought. It’s stuck in a mindset. We apply previous methods to a seemingly similar problem instead of evaluating the problem on its own terms. This effect presents across disciplines and skill levels. Whether or not we know it, we all experience it.

After I read the article, all I could say was “ouch.

Let’s say when an employee continues to be late for work. In your 20 years of experience, employees who continue to be late never change and you yell first and listen later. In your life, yelling has worked, so why not use this tactic every time? The Einstellung effect is the negative effect of our previous experiences when solving new problems.

You may have heard, “My last wife was a redhead; you can’t trust a redhead!”

This is even scarier; research has shown that as we age, the connections in the brain became fixed. Although the brain continues to change, and new connections can form, we rely on old ways of thinking. Basically, these are shortcuts that form how we make decisions. Let’s say someone asks, “Did you remember to lock the door, and you say you can’t remember. When you check you find you already did it? This is a primed embedded habit. Your brain is just doing you a favor by doing it without thinking thus saving your energy.

Maybe so and maybe no.

Almost 50% of what we do every day are driven by habit, many things we do; we do on autopilot. Are you aware it actually takes 66 days to form a new habit? This is the important part; the more entrenched our habits or neural circuits become, the more our minds resist new ideas. It’s likely we don’t listen, and we do everything the way we’ve done it for the past however, many years! No wonder life often seems so boring, and nothing is new. Our brains treat new ideas or experiences as threats and trigger our amygdala, the fear center of our brains. We may not mean to do it, but we are sure we know best; we apply that hammer to all situations even those that require new thinking.

Our strategies begin with the mechanical side of business. We hope this will mean we don’t need to deal with the much harder transformation, which is the people part.

We forget that our daily interactions are with people, and we cannot’’ change what happens in our business or life, unless we learn and change our mental models. This involves teaching people how to unlearn before they learn something new. If people are unwilling to unlearn, you need new people.

We learn by going to school, so we can go to college. We learn in college, so we can get a job. We learn how to keep our job and then we stop learning. That’s why if you want your business to be fluid, you must keep training people, so they will learn and be flexible. People must continually learn, unlearn, and make critical thinking a priority. By the way, this is why your smartest employees are so hard to teach. They first need to do some unlearning! 

Our crazy times are demanding this.

We must learn to question everything, challenge our thinking, and use all our senses to make holistic decisions. Alvin Toffler put it best in his 1970 classic book “Future Shock.” “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” — Alvin Toffler

Learning is something we must continue to do if we are to live a healthful and enjoyable life. Nobody said it’s going to be easy, who could say it better than Willie Nelson? 

Lisbeth continues to help people ‘learn and relearn’ so they can continue to be successful. If your team needs any help, she can be reached at [email protected] or text or call, 518.495.5380, EST.

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