Decision Strategies

Decision strategies can be considered from two aspects, the big picture and the fine details.

The big picture...

A strategy is a plan of action or policy which is designed to achieve an overall aim. So on a large-scale, there are three main decision making strategies:

  • rational
  • intuitive
  • combinations

Rational strategies have to do with identifying options, evaluating and comparing them and eventually deciding on the highest ranking or best option.

Intuitive strategies indicate that there may be no rationale or logic behind the choices made. It simply 'feels right', or the person 'just knows!'.

Gary Klein's recognition primed decision model is a combination of the first two. Intuition is used to generate a workable course of action and then you consider it logically to confirm it as appropriate.

Smaller chunks

Let's examine each of the 3 main groups mentioned in finer detail.

Decision making is typically considered as the choosing between 2 or more alternatives. This is the rational approach and somehow it has become the most popular in our teaching institutions and in business, even though it's not necessarily how we naturally make decisions.



The big question, of course, is how to choose between many alternatives. And there have been many decision making strategies described and used in order to facilitate this.

David Welch in his book 'Decisions, Decisions' lays out five decision strategies:

  • optimization
  • constrained optimization
  • preselection
  • satisficing and
  • randomization.

Pros and cons of each

Optimization strategies are those where every option, criteria, consequence and risk is considered. He says this is the ideal although they obviously take a lot of time for information gathering and assessment and can often be costly in terms of stress. This option is not so good when they are a huge number of alternatives.

Constrained optimization means that the number of options considered are constrained or limited in some way. They may be time, geographical, cultural, ethnic constraints and so on. For example, 'my clients have to live in this particular city, or within a half an hour's journey from my office'. Setting the constraints will obviously impact the final result. There are many ways to set constraints which makes this one of the commonest decision strategies.

Preselection of options can also be done on the basis of many different considerations. You can preselect restaurants, for example, based on recommendations of friends or recommendations from a particular magazine. A preselection process of candidates for elections narrows the options available to the voters.

The satisficing decision strategy is where, as soon as you find an option that fits the bill, you go with it. This can be useful when there are a lot of alternatives and its in an area where you have little expertise.

Randomizing decision strategies are those where you toss a coin or throw dice. They are useful when there are few options and no one is significantly better than any of the others.


Intuitive strategies

There are a huge number of intuitive strategies, all dependent on the method of deciding. For example, some people 'go with their gut', or feel it 'in their heart'. Others have decision strategies that involve seeing images or hearing particular voices.

The use of pendulums, tarot cards with a variety of ways of placing the cards, and so on, can also be considered intuitive strategies.

Klein's Model

Gary Klein suggests that we make 95% of our decisions by using our intuition to quickly recognize patterns and choose a plan of action that we think will work, based on our past experiences.

We then 'think it through rationally' to assess if we consider it will get the job done in these particular circumstances. If this mental simulation works, we go ahead. If not, we modify the plan or choose a completely different one, until we get one we thing will work. Then we go with this one.

This decision strategy is a combination of intuitive strategy and rational thinking.


Your own Process

You can learn your own personal signals for making intuitive decisions here... and read how to apply Klein's model yourself...

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