Posted by: zyxo | September 3, 2008

Complex Decision to make ?


Ever had a complex decision to make ?

We all make decisions all the time. Right now I am making the decision to keep on writing on making decisions.

We make a lot of decision we are even not aware of, like scratching some place that itches, looking at something, laughing when someone thells a joke …
Than there are a lot of simple decisions. In a bar, pub : what should I drink? Beer ? Wine? Water ? Which shoes should I buy ? this ones or the other ones ?
And then there are the tougher ones,
like investing : should I sell or should I by some more stocks?
like buying a house : this one on the country, but far from public transportation, or that one in town ?
like having another child
like quitting your job for another one

And than there are also the really tough ones : like deciding which Software development tool to buy for a development department of 500 people.

For the simple ones the solution is also simple : decide on gut feeling. And if you cannot decide there are two options :

  1. it does not matter, for if you cannot decide it means the two choices are equal
  2. act as if you chose one of the options but focus on how you feel about missing the not-chosen one. Often a different feeling will show up depending on which one you did not chose, making it a lot more easy to choose.

Difficult decisions are … well … more difficult. But fortunately there are some tools or methods to help you out.

First there is what is called “even swap”.
The principle is the following :

  1. list all relevant criteria
  2. compare the value of each criterion between the possible choices
  3. eliminate criteria that are dominated by the others, and hence not really matter
  4. replace (“swap”) one characteristic for another one by giving them sort of an exchange rate whereby you feel that amount x of characteristic X has an equal worth of amount y of characteristic Y (“even swap”)
  5. if you keep on doing that, finally you will come up with only one characteristic and a value for choice 1 and another value for choice 2. This makes it easy to decide.

You can find a online software: smart-swaps that support the even swap process developed at the Systems Analysis Laboratory from the
Helsinki University of Technology
and a powerpoint presentation about it.

The most elaborated is the Analytical hierarchy process
I will not go in detail about it but the basis is this : you do an top down decompositon of every characteristic that matters (ex.user interface, with at the underlying level : ease of use, artistic qualities, response times …). Than you (best seek agreement with a handfull of people) compare every bottom characteristic pairwise between each possible choice indicating if they are equal for that characteristic, if A is a bit, a lot, very much better or worse than B…).
For complex decisions it means a lot of work, but at the end, and with the nececessary mathematics you get a calculated solution that should be correct… if you did not forgot some characteristic.

As bonus : an interesting article on decision experiments : Don’t sleep on it!

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