In a recent interview with Farhad Manjoo of The New York Times, Instagram co-founder and CEO Kevin Systrom revealed that, for three months, he and his team have been having meetings where the whole agenda is just to plow through a bunch of choices that haven’t been resolved.
Wait, what? How could that possibly be a good decision-making tactic? Aren’t you supposed to take your time, and gather facts, and get second opinions?!
Actually, you probably don’t need to. According to science, Systrom is on to something with his rapid-fire-all-at-once approach to making choices.
The effect of data overload
Today’s business leaders live in the age of big data. But too much data can overwhelm, leading to negative results. Doctors at the Cook County Hospital, for instance, predicted heart attacks with significantly less accuracy when they had more information to work with. And consumers are more likely to make a buy if they have fewer choices.
So accepting that more data isn’t always the answer, if you’re not going to get more facts before pushing forward, you have to lean much harder on your gut or instincts.
And that totally works!
The protective design of the brain
Your brain is made to tap emotion ahead of logic to keep you safe — think too much about the lion charging at you, for instance, and you’ll get gobbled up. So when you make a decision based on instinct, you don’t stop using data. It’s just that the data set changes. Instead of using the information from your presentation or printouts, for example, you use information from emotional memories or subconscious ideas, which your brain can access and apply faster than rational thought.
With this in mind, numerous studies indicate emotion is actually foundational to decision making. Neuroscientist Antonio Damasio, for example, studied individuals with damage to the part of the brain that generates emotions. He found that, without the ability to feel, the patients lost the ability to make even basic decisions, such as what to eat.
Experts, who presumably have more life experience and subsequent subconscious emotional memories to draw on, do better than novices in intuitive decision making. And feelings have been shown to be trustworthy in making assessments about relationships, intelligence and even who’s good at their job.
Instinctual decision making saves you fuel
Making decisions pulls on the brain’s fuel reserves, which is why a good night’s rest truly can lead to better choices. But research led by Maarten W. Bos looked more closely at decision making as it relates to energy/resource depletion in the brain. Bos demonstrated that the brain requires less energy for unconscious processes than for conscious processes (executive functioning), concluding through experimentation that the unconscious can be trusted for decision making when blood glucose is low.
So when you’re tired or drained, going with your gut isn’t necessarily going to lead you down the wrong path. In fact, it’s likely the best approach.
Morality and confidence
But what about ethics? Decision making is about doing what is “right,” isn’t it? Research led by Chen-Bo Zhong found that, when people have more time to deliberate, decisions actually become less ethical. And to top it off, a study by Dr. Roozbeh Kiani showed that, the more time people use to make a decision, the less confident they are in their choice.
Decide now, think later
Systrom’s approach to decision making is not the norm, but from the scientific point of view, he’s hit the nail on the head. His way of working through choices saves time, as the company doesn’t have to quest for more and more information, and by working quickly, he actually ups the odds that the decisions the team makes will be moral and self-empowering.
Because the method forces the team to turn to instinct, which is often reliable despite being less taxing on the brain, it’s something that can work well even when the team is tired. So don’t buy into the myth that good decisions require an entire meeting or mountain of documentation. Work fast. Trust yourself. Just go.