Author: Gary Klein

Publisher: MIT Press, 1998

ISBN-13: 978-0262611466, 338 pages

In this original, honest and sometimes amusing book, Gary Klein studied expert decision makers such as firefighters, soldiers and chess masters, who operate under highly challenging conditions. He shares his early assumptions about how they made decisions, and how his research reveals that his initial theories were wrong. He has learned what good decision making requires and shares that expertise in tightly focused chapters rich with examples. getAbstract recommends this book to anyone interested in decision making, and especially to those who make high-stakes determinations under dynamic conditions: leaders, strategists, futurists, investors and businesspeople.

“Decisions and models of decision making”

Most people make decisions badly. However, firefighters, military leaders and chess masters, for instance, make critical decisions under extreme pressure every day. If they are wrong, the least they can lose is a career-defining game; the most is someone’s life. These experts reach their decisions in “high stakes,” time-pressured situations. They must act despite scarce information, ambiguous objectives and ill-defined methods. Often they must “juggle complex goals,” recognize relationships and perceive differences while immersed in dynamic circumstances that change second by second. Yet these experts routinely make good decisions. How are they able to think through the issues, choose among options and direct their will while avoiding the paralysis of self-doubt?

They eschew the “rational choice strategy” taught in many business schools. In that model, you identify and evaluate your options, weigh different aspects, produce ratings and choose the alternative that scores the most points. But decision-making pros don’t use any aspect of this model. When asked, many experts couldn’t remember making decisions or even considering alternatives. Their know-how allowed them to read a situation quickly – even immediately – to identify patterns and act. They determined and pursued fresh options in the midst of application. They generated alternatives only when their first actions failed.

Studying experts’ processes leads to a different model of decision making: the “recognition-primed decision model” (RPD). This model generates solutions immediately, based on the practiced recognition of a situation’s patterns. Decision makers project these solutions forward in their imaginations and test them by visualization, “not by formal analysis and comparison.” This model doesn’t necessarily generate the best response; it quickly chooses the “first workable option,” which is the preferred option under time pressure. The RPD model emphasizes action. It depends on experience, so rookie decision makers may need to employ “analytical methods.” People can learn to use RPD by exercising “deliberate practice,” accumulating experience, getting feedback and “reviewing prior experiences” to deepen their skills.

Where decision makers get their power

People who make difficult decisions regularly draw on many “sources of power,” including “intuition,” “mental simulation” and the use of “leverage points.”

Decision makers using intuition call on a depth of expertise that distinguishes “key patterns” to diagnose a situation. Intuition sometimes seems like a “sixth sense” urging immediate action, as when a veteran firefighter leads his team out of the flames just before a building collapses. Intuition can be a tool, enabling you to anticipate what will happen next…

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