3 Strategies For Making Decisions When You Don’t Have All The Information 8 min read

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Decision-making is inescapable. It’s like encountering crossroads – you must choose a path to follow; you must make a decision, or nothing progresses, and, at worst, you might be left behind by those who make decisions. Whether it’s about your career, relationships, or even meals, decisions are an integral part of moving forward in life.

Making decisions can be difficult and scary because you often don’t know what’s best to do. Sometimes, we go as far as to pray or hope for luck. However, there are ways to make better decisions even if you don’t have everything figured out; in this piece, we are going to discuss three. 

Why do I find it hard to make decisions? 

Most times you are stuck in decision purgatory because you fret about picking the wrong path, haunted by “what ifs.” So, you pile on data, and map out scenarios, hoping for crystal clarity. However, you only end up with analysis paralysis!

Your need for certainty drives you to place more focus on a choice than it might warrant, a fixation that unwittingly drives second-guessing and self-doubt.

But, ever notice how often you still decide without all the facts? 

Studies show that even experienced doctors can diagnose just by observing subtle cues like posture and speech. This highlights how we underestimated the power of intuitive pattern recognition over excessive information gathering.

There are often so many variables that you can’t factor them all in. Sometimes the nuances are such that projecting an outcome is nigh impossible. 

In a world full of endless possibilities, we can’t have perfect information or know-it-all facts. According to Nassim Nicholas Taleb in “Antifragility,” even with the best strategies, we can’t predict everything. However, if we embrace randomness, learn from mistakes, and build flexible systems, we can not only handle unexpected events but also benefit from them.  

The prospect of going to a prophet, soothsayer, or crystal ball seems appealing, but even those are shams – often leveraging on phenomenons such as the Barnum effect, Placebo effect, or most commonly Confirmation bias.

So what’s the alternative?

How to make better decisions even when uncertain 

Become comfortable with not knowing, and making mistakes 

To make smarter decisions, be aware that things might not go as planned.

“I’m not sure” is a more accurate representation of the world.

You are not sure how you came into existence. 

You are not sure how and when you’ll die.

You don’t know if your life works will become iconic when you are dead. 

We have a limited time to learn enough from our own experiences, to understand if our decisions were good or bad.

When you accept that you can’t be sure, you are less likely to fall into the trap of indecision.

When you are comfortable with not knowing everything and the possible repercussions, you can make decisions despite incomplete information.

Make more decisions and learn from them. 

What’s the most efficient way to roll the dice?

There isn’t one. You just keep rolling!

The more decisions you make,  the better you become at spotting and making better decisions. This is called Tacit or Implicit knowledge, and there are a lot of fields where this is the prime skill to have.

For example, a soccer player might be able to instinctively know when to make a pass or take a shot, based on the position of their teammates and the defenders. 

Another example is an experienced photographer who instinctively knows when to press the shutter button to capture a one-in-a-lifetime moment. 

Developing your tacit or implicit knowledge requires putting yourself in positions where you have no choice but to fight—the “WTF moment.”. 

It’s that moment when you make a decision, even if you feel lost or confused, because, in reality, everyone operates on their own best set of guesses, even if they cleverly justify and glorify their right actions afterwards (a sort of survivorship bias, but for their decision)

This is the way to move forward – to bridge the gap between knowing and not knowing and action. 

For example; you feel like having more friends would be nice, but meeting new people can be scary. So, you start trying out different ways (like shared interests or online platforms) to connect with others. As you explore, you find what works, take action, and end up with a bunch of great friends. You can’t always be sure what will work from the onset.

However, if this approach sounds a bit risky, here is another way to curb your fears.

Seek balance between inner reflection and outer exploration.

You become wiser if you spend enough time in your mind. 

However, spend too much time in it; you get lost in your head.

All we know is a small part of our personality which is almost insignificant compared to the infinite perspective in our world. Shared experiences are how we humans evolve and become civilized. It is how you learn what not to say and do. 

Talk to others, read books, see art  – They silence the internal noise and transform the thoughts into insights. 

Share your idea with someone who has a different perspective; they might offer insights that help solve your problem.

Read a book and you will see the unacknowledged biases guiding your choices.

See Arts, and the flame of curiosity is ignited, and that curiosity propels you on to discovery.

Shared ideas spark joy, and joyful clarity fuels wise decisions. 

However, if you are closed-minded, and unwilling to learn or at least get entertained, the effort is futile. 

In essence: be open to diverse viewpoints for wiser choices.

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Conclusion: Don’t wait for certainty. Make choices, learn, and keep moving forward

In her book “Thinking in Bets,” Annie Duke suggests that life is more like a poker game than chess. Poker involves incomplete information and decision-making under uncertainty over time. Unlike chess, where all the pieces and moves are known, in poker, you don’t know all the cards, your opponents’ hands, or the outcome of each play. Valuable information remains hidden.

Life also doesn’t always follow a predictable path. Making a well-thought-out decision, such as graduating with a first class may not guarantee wealth. Conversely, taking risks, like running a red light, might lead to a safe outcome.

Annie Duke emphasizes that in poker, even a novice could beat a world champion player in a single hand—a scenario unlikely in chess due to its defined rules and predictable outcomes. This explains why an amateur can earn more than an expert. There is an element of luck in any outcome. 

“I have observed something else under the sun. The fastest runner doesn’t always win the race, and the strongest warrior doesn’t always win the battle. The wise sometimes go hungry, and the skilful are not necessarily wealthy. And those who are educated don’t always lead successful lives. It is all decided by chance, by being in the right place at the right time.”

– Ecclesiastes 9:11 (NLT)

Our whole lives are as much about making choices and learning from each decision, more so than wanting every choice to be the right one. 

Life isn’t black or white, whether it’s monumental (life-altering moments) or trivial (everyday routines). Often, they are just choices waiting to be made,  see what happens, and then make another choice.

While it is advisable to gather data to make informed decisions, you can’t always rely on those as they may lead you to procrastinate and miss opportunities

A fulfilling life entails navigating between decisions despite uncertainties, and the more adept you become, the smoother and more daring your leaps. 

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Did you enjoy this content or have some questions? Please let us know in the comments section. 

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