A Comparison Of Decision Models

Main groupings

In order to do a comparison of decision models it makes sense to first distinguish the different types. The two most basic categories are the rational and intuitive.

Rational decision-making models are those in which a logical, sensible choice is made, often using a step-by-step process. Usually the pros and cons of a choice are ranked or scored with the highest scoring option being 'the best'.

They are called rational models because they involve cognition, or thinking, in order to reason out the most logical choice. There is usually a set of sequential steps to follow and each step has to be completed before you go to the next one.

You can read more details here about rational models and there is an overview of many tools and techniques that will allow you to do a comparison of decision models of the rational type.

Contrast or compare decision models?

In a comparison of decision models, rational models would be contrasted with intuitive models. I say 'contrasted with' instead of 'opposite to' because those people doing a comparison of decision models realize that it's not simply the opposite of rational decision making. Some say that intuition is outside the realm of reason.

These models are based on using your intuition. Of course, what you mean by intuition will determine how each model works. Intuition has loosely to do with how the mind perceives the truth of things without reasoning or analysis. Instinctive knowledge or beliefs are an aspect of this. There's even a doctrine, intuitionalism, a philosophy which stresses intuition and mysticism over a logical universe.


Such things as Tarot cards, fortune telling, astrology, gut feelings, listening to your heart, may all be considered intuitive decision making models. The idea here is that there may be no rationalizing or logic. Somehow you just know, and it feels right.

Much more attention is paid to internal signals than what can be worked out on paper. However, the degree of awareness of these internal signals can be different. Anything from 'it just feels right' to a highly tuned awareness where there are very particular images or feelings, or even hearing a very particular voice.

Most popular

By far and away the most popular decision making models in our learning institutions are rational models. The emphasis is very much on cognition, reasoning and critical thinking. Somehow the 'head stuff' has become much more important than the 'body stuff'. The only reason for them to do any comparison of decision models is to work out which rational one is best.

Most of the newer books written on decision making are about rational models. In fact, many of the researchers into intuitive models are trying to work out the rationale behind them!


Most natural!

No comparison of decision models would be complete without a mention of Gary Klein's recognition primed decision model. His model suggests that our natural decision making process goes something like this.

We gather information from our environment and try to recognize patterns within it. Knowing what we want to achieve, we pick a possible solution based on our information. If we have a sense that it will work, we go ahead. If we don't think it will work, we choose a second option. If we think that will work, we do it. And so on.

You'll notice there is no comparing of alternatives here. As we cycle through alternatives, the first one we consider that will work, we go with.

Watch for patterns

Our ability to recognize patterns will enhance our decision making. And over time as we gain more experience, our ability to recognize patterns improves.

More experienced people will recognize more patterns than novices. This allows them to pick a workable option much more quickly.

Originally, Klein considered that we make about 90% of our decisions this way. Subsequent studies have shown that his original research was actually skewed in favor of rational models and that we probably make about 95% of our decisions this way!

Military units worldwide who are constantly doing a comparison of decision models in their search for more effective ones (for obvious reasons!), have recognized the benefits and use his ideas extensively.

All inclusive

You could say that this is a combination of rational and intuitive decision making. Rational because we're gathering all the information from the environment and considering it. Intuitive because there is an internal body check in the process. Read more about his recognition primed decision model here...

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