At Mäd, we categorize our decisions to help us identify the logic, rationality and thus, the implications behind our decisions. Unlike people, decisions can be boxed into many different types; the two prominent ones to start distinguishing are reversible decisions and irreversible decisions.
Although the terms itself are self-explanatory, Jeff Bezos's door analogy perfectly captures the implications of the two decisions and is worth a reiteration. According to Bezos:
Reversible decisions are like doors that open both ways. Irreversible decisions are doors that allow passage in only one direction; if you walk through, you are stuck there.
In short—if it's reversible, don't spend too much time on it, if it's irreversible, maybe spend a little more time thinking about it. Recognizing the difference between the two types help us make more effective and efficient decisions.
The psychology of decision-making is fascinating. As human beings, it's natural to think that we operate logically and rationally. However, in reality, irrational decisions persist, often times automatically or subconsciously. Unless we are aware or informed of our cognitive biases, it's dangerously easy to mistake our irrationality for rationality. As illuminated in The Law of Triviality—an extension of the more famously known Parkinson's Law.
"The time spent on any item of the agenda will be in inverse proportion to the sum [of money] involved."
A good example is the Bike-shedding Effect where a (fictional) committee whose job to approve the plans for a nuclear power plant may find themselves spending the majority of their time on discussions about relatively minor but easy-to-grasp issues—i.e. what materials to use for the staff bike shed—while neglecting the proposed design of the plant itself, which is far more important and a far more difficult and complex task.
This is likely because trivial issues are much easier to understand and less-resource intensive. Therefore, it's easier to form an opinion on it without the extra weight of responsibility often attached with complex issues.
The next steps from recognizing our tendency to allocate precious time to trivial issues is to learn how to navigate this. At Mäd, we adopt what we call the Mäd Six Pager approach to meetings (1. Purpose of document, 2. Narrative, 3. Problem, 4. Solutions, 5. Recommendation and 6. Plan of action) to ensure we remain focused and productive.
Simply put, before a meeting even begins, be sure to have an agenda so that the meeting doesn't steer off course. By assigning rough time values per point, which will be determined by importance, you can ensure a meeting doesn't veer off into a 40 minute discussion on what coffee to buy for the canteen.
Issuing the agenda, and ideally a six-pager, allows the meeting attendees to prep and therefore have sharper focus and insight when it comes to decision making.
Although sometimes it's as if we are biologically programmed to act against ourselves, that is certainly not the case. Automatic (subconscious) decisions do have their own evolutionary implications. As a species, we've made it this far because our brain has the ability to kickstart the analysis process on our behalf without our constant awareness or engagement to ensure we get things done while conserving our energy at the same time. An example is driving—imagine having to consciously weigh the pros and cons of hitting the brake pedal every time you come across a red light; it wouldn't take us long to perish. Therefore, it would be unfair to completely disregard our subconscious tendencies.
However, in order to compete in the modern era, our decision-making process is due for a readjustment. The pre-requisite to this is the ability to recognize and distinguish the types of decisions and the corresponding processes required in order to gauge and adapt according to the circumstances. Recognizing our tendency to wallow in trivial issues is the first step to reverse ourselves from the trivial trap.
Decisions don't have to become dilemmas.