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Making decisions is one of the most difficult tasks people face. Should I buy the green car or the blue car? Should I take the job as an aide to a Congressman or the job as a waitress at Hooters?

Unfortunately, for most people, there are too many choices. Decision-making is easy when there is only one choice. But when the number of choices proliferates, the difficulty increases exponentially. When there are too many choices, decision-making grinds to a halt. Witness the US Congress.

Many methods of assisting decision-making have been devised. The earliest was the I-Ching. But for the average American, figuring out the hexagrams and interpreting the enigmatic interpretations ("when a flying dragon is in the sky, it is fitting to stay under a roof") is too difficult. Thus the flip of the coin (heads the dragon flies away, tails it doesn't).

Arbitrary decision-making is just as productive as educated decision-making. Since it is highly presumptuous to assume you know every possible facet of a decision, the odds that you'll get it right with an intelligent process are no better than darts.

Thus, an entire industry has arisen assisting the decision-making process. "Decision analysis" is practiced by Harvard University and a host of consulting companies who get paid hundreds of dollars per hour to tell your city council where to locate a new wastewater treatment plant (not in anyone's back yard).

But, in the spirit of continuing to provide utterly worthless information, the General Delivery University produced this astoundingly new and effective Arbitrary Decision-Making Process (or ADMP).

(1) Identify what decision is is you have to make. This is not as easy as you think. Do you want to go to the movies or do you want to go out to dinner? Or both? What movie? What times is it shown? What restaurant? How long does it take to get served? Is there really enough time to do both, especially if they are not close to each other?

Obviously the real decision to make first is do you go out, or stay at home. Once you've figured out the initial or "foundational" decision, all the rest are easy.

(2) What totally irrelevant decision process to use. There are numerous ways to make a decision. But all of them have differing satisfaction values. Flipping a coin is perfectly acceptable when deciding whether to get married or not, but it won't work if you are leaving your home to go out for an evening.

The first decision upon leaving home for the night out is whether to go left or right. The appropriate decision method to use is paper/rock/scissors.

Once you have decided to go left (unless of course you live on a one way street and some public official has already made that arbitrary decision for you) now look at the restaurant options and see which one is to your left. If there are no restaurants to your left, then the decision has been made to go straight to the movie (unless it also cannot be reached by going left). If you are denied a decision by two irrelevant processes, this means you really should go back home and lock the doors because someone is telling you not to go out tonight.

(3) Superstition as a decision process. Never underrate superstition as a means to making a good decision. If a ladder is blocking a doorway, of course you do not enter, even if it is to go to work. If a black cat runs across the road in front of your car, of course you turn back, especially if you were on your way to your wedding.

Superstition exists for a reason--which is to warn you that the world is in fact a very nasty place. "I had a hunch it would be a bad day to mail my letters at the post office." From someone who stayed home and missed the postal worker shooting 20 of his co-workers.

Hunches are just as valuable as knowledge. Go with your gut. And always carry a rabbit's foot. (Funny why the animal rights movement hasn't outlawed rabbit's feet)

(4) Random decisions. Just as well-thought out decisions are useful, random decisions can be even better. Why pick the movie you wanted to see when chances are it is awful. Pick your favorite letter--say G--and go to the movie whose title starts with G. When asked why you went to see Gone With The Wind you can answer, "gee...".

(5) People make fun of blondes and their sometimes witless decisions. But have you ever thought of why blondes have more fun? Because they have not the slightest remorse after making a decision. (Could be they don't remember what the options were anyway). Many people make a decision, only to regret it. A cardinal rule in decision making is to figure out the "opportunity cost" of a decision before it is made, not after.

What is "opportunity cost"? This is a concept stolen from economics which means if you have $3.00 and chose to buy a milk shake, you won't have any money left to buy a magazine. Thus, if you use your money to enjoy a milk shake, you cannot then allow yourself to feel bad because you will not be able to read the magazine.

Decisions are supposed to make us happy. Thus, regretting a decision is contrary to happiness. Never look back. And you can always steal the magazine from a neighbor.

(6) Remembering the past may be good for historians, but it sucks as far as decisions go, especially bad ones. For it is certain you will make bad decisions as well as good ones.

The problem with bad decisions, is it is harder to deal with them when a great deal of effort has been invested in making the decision. Whereas, if you made the bad decision by some arbitrary and capricious method (such as flipping a coin) it is much easier to dump the decision and move on. This is why people who get married on a whim in Las Vegas only take days to get divorces, whereas people who went steady for years and then got married spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on divorce lawyers.

Thus, if you rely on capricious decision-making, though many of the decisions might be dubious, at least you won't feel guilty when you dump the decision.

(7) Narrowing the choices. As noted earlier one of the greatest problems in decision-making is that there are too many choices. Or seem to be.

The reality is the large number of decision options is usually not real. You may think you have a lot of choices, but your bank account says different.

Focus on those factors that limit your options first, to reduce the number of options. For example, if you can't decide where to play golf, and it is dark, forget it. The golf courses are closed.

Or, you really want to tell your boss to put his new policy of unpaid overtime in a body cavity. But you have a mortgage and three kids going to college.

Or, you like the red car and the green car, but the red car costs $25,000 and you only have $15,000 which means all you can afford is the white car.

Finally, the most effective tool in human history for decision-making was invented in Chicago. It is called the "what's innit for me?" approach. All decisions must provide benefit to the decision-maker. If the decision does not provide a benefit, why are you making the decision--let someone else do it.




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Copyright 1998-2006 by Hugh Holub