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A Simplified System for Complex Decision Making

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Deliberate human decision making is both a complicated process and a vague concept. Often, we make decisions without cognitively thinking about the process. That is, our choices are fast, automatic, and emotional. It’s what Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman, in his book, Thinking Fast and Slow, calls system one thinking. Unlike system one thinking, Kahneman explains slower, deliberate, and logical thinking as system two thinking. It’s this system two thinking that requires more cognition when making complex decisions.

When it comes to simplifying the complexity of deliberate decision-making, decision-makers can incorporate a process introduced by consumer psychologist, Ryan Hamilton, in his lecture series titled, How You Decide: The Science of Human Decision Making. Hamilton simplifies the process of human decision making as analogous to a manufacturing process.

In a simplified version of a manufacturing process, there are three parts; raw materials that serve as input, the machinery which processes and assembles the raw material, and a control mechanism that regulates the machinery within the manufacturing process.

decision making as a manufacturing process

In the manufacturing metaphor, deliberate decision making is summed up in three simple components, informational input, informational processing, and motivational control. Leaders engaged in crucial dilemmas can use the process to understand the choices they make and to make better decisions.

The Cognitive “Manufacturing” Process in Decision Making

Informational Input
In the first step of our manufacturing metaphor, we need to identify the decision we are trying to anticipate. What we want to know is the “raw” information that we want to input into our cognitive process. We also understand which options we have available to us. Additionally, we want to understand what decision rules are used to process the information, and in what context our decision options are scrutinized.

Informational Processing
Next, we want to understand what biases will play a part in our decision making process as a natural result of how our minds operate. What steps would we take to make our resolve easier by being aware of these biases and working to eliminate them from the process? Biases tend to affect our decisions, thus being aware of them can help us make logical choices and better decisions.

Motivational Control
In the final step of the “cognitive manufacturing process,” we ask what are the motivations that are likely to determine your decision making? What are some deep-rooted drivers that may influence you to make your determination? What are your ultimate goals?


In summary, to better understand complex decision making, we equate the process to that of a manufacturing process. We input raw material, which is our thoughts and the machinery that produces the final goods, our decisions, and cognitive ability to understand and eliminate our biases. Finally, the control mechanism of the machinery is our motivation or the deep-rooted drivers for making the resolution. However, there are limitations to human decision making. There exists a chasm of variances in the mental quality of our choices between people and within ourselves. Each variable along the  process must be considered carefully and weighed against our motivation and goals for the decisions we want to make.

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