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Letters to a Young Manager

Decision Theory and Hard Choices, #189
LTYM > Decision-making

Dear Adam,
Sometimes decisions just don't compute.

When I was a guest presenter at Case Western University a few years ago, I heard a professor tell a story about a colleague who gave a talk to a class on decision theory. The class was 13 weeks of calculus, followed by a class where the professor pointed to decisions for which the math did not work, such as choosing who to marry, which job to take, or what school to attend. He said that for these cases, if you have narrowed it down to two options, you should pull a round object from your pocket, label heads for one option and tails for the other. Now throw the coin high in the air. Before it hits the ground, say what your choice is. Now walk away and don't look at the coin. In this time compression, our reason is bypassed and intuition takes over, making the right choice for us.

Imagine this. You know the two choices and which is heads and which is tails. The coin is in the air and you call it, just like the football game toss. Except this time you walk away. You don't look. You trust your gut that what you called out is right for you. Sometimes we need ways to put the logic aside and let our intuition speak.
Yours truly,


Flip a Coin, but don't look

Discussion Questions:

1) What are some of the decisions you faced for which the calculating approach doesn't work?
2) Could you trust your gut and walk away without looking at the coin?

For Further Reading:

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