Posts Tagged decision
Is it possible to know the future? Most people would say not. Yet many careers theories and theories about entrepreneurial behaviour inadvertently assume that it is possible.
In 1921 Frank Knight, who once taught the Nobel laureate Milton Friedman, wrote a seminal book called Risk, Uncertainty and Profit. Knight explained that there was a difference between risk (where the probability of success is known) and uncertainty (where the probability of success is unknown). More recently the economist Saras Sarasvathy, in her book Effectuation, pointed out that Knight had actually written about a third category – only no-one had noticed. This overlooked third category described a future that is not only unknown, but is unknowable, even in principle.
This observation, that there is an important difference between a future that is difficult to predict and a future that is impossible to predict, could lead to profound changes in our understanding of career choice.
In last week’s post about employability I presented four approaches to employability (Careerist, Ritualist, Rebel and Retreatist).
This got me all enthusiastic about typologies that put people into boxes which describe their approach to career management and decision making. I’ve found a few, but I’m hoping that you can come up with some more for me.
I have just returned once again from being a tutor on the AGCAS Guidance Skills (Advanced) course in Warwick. We had an intensive four days in which we encouraged a group of higher education careers advisers to deconstruct and rebuild their guidance practices and attitudes.
Reframing is a crucial element of the course. We explore how to help clients reframe their career dilemmas in more constructive ways. However, we also do a lot of reframing with the participants. Through workshop discussions, models, theories, observation and feedback, we encouraged everyone to explore different perspectives on the skills and processes of the guidance discussion as well as their role, assumptions and motivations within it.
It’s rewarding but exhausting!
One thing I noticed was that our ability to resist break-time pastries and dinner-time desserts diminished considerably as the course progressed.
And now I think I know why…
In last week’s post I talked about the decision-making profile developed by Itamar Gati. Along with some other researchers, Gati has also explored the various factors that lead to decision-making difficulties. As with the profile, this list of difficulties can provide a useful checklist for exploring decision making with clients.
What is your decision-making style?
Do you actually have one…or many?
In much of the literature on decision making approaches, there is a tendency to allocate people to one of a number of different categories or styles.
For example, you might be classified as (Scott & Bruce, 1995):
- Rational – You tend to make decisions in a logical and systematic way
- Avoidant – You tend to avoid making important decisions until the pressure is on
- Dependent – You tend to make important decisions by consulting other people
- Intuitive – You tend to make decisions by relying on your instinct
- Spontaneous – You tend to make impulsive decisions
This seems to me to be overly simplistic and that is also the conclusion of a paper by a group of Israeli psychologists.
In part 1 of this series, I gave my take on some of the weaknesses and limitations of MBTI and its underlying Jungian theory of psychological types. In part 2, I tried to reconstruct Jung’s ideas into a rather over-simplified model of how we deal with information and make decisions, leaving out a few of his most troublesome assumptions. Now I will explain how this model influences my work with clients and how I actually use MBTI in practice.
In defence of dynamics
Before I do that though, having criticised the MBTI, I would like to balance things a little.
One of the criticisms levelled at the MBTI is that, compared to other psychometric instruments, it has poor test-retest reliability. This means that if the same person answers the questionnaire on two separate occasions they might come out with different results. This is a fair criticism if what you are trying to measure is a fixed trait which ought not to change over time. Part of this is probably due to the arbitrary allocation of people in the middle of the spectrum to one preference or another, something I have never been comfortable with.
However, if Jung’s model is not really about fixed preferences between opposing traits, but a dynamic balance of complementary functions that depend on the needs of the situation as much as the natural inclinations of the individual, then the low reliability of the MBTI may be giving an insight into the adaptability of our brains.
One way of testing this situational hypothesis might involve getting people to focus on a scenario geared towards a particular mode of thinking before they complete the questionnaire. If you made them think about the same scenario before they did it again then test-retest reliability ought to get better, and if you gave them a different type of scenario it should get worse. If anyone knows of any research along these lines, please let me know.
Choosing an expensive item such as a car can be hard enough. In 2006 Ap Dijksterhuis, a researcher from the University of Amsterdam, made things a bit harder. He gave people various items of information about a selection four of cars and asked them to choose the best option.
The information had been engineered so that each car had a different mixture of positive and negative attributes, but one car was designed to be a best option and another was designed to be the worst option.
Dijksterhuis then divided his subjects into four groups. To two of the groups he only gave four items of information per car (simple condition), whereas the other group had to deal with 12 attributes per car (complex condition).
After reading the information about the cars, half of each group were allowed four minutes to think about their choice (conscious choosers). The other half were given anagrams to complete in order to distract them from thinking (unconscious choosers). They were then asked to make their choice of the best car and their result was compared with the real answer.
In the simple condition (four attributes per car), there was no real difference in success rate between the conscious and the unconscious choosers. However, in the complex condition (12 attributes per car) the people who had been distracted made consistently better decisions than the people who had been allowed to consider the choice.
So, is the unconscious mind better at making complex decisions than the conscious mind?
In my last post I did some deconstructing of MBTI and the Jungian theory of psychological types that inspired it.
Now I’ll have a go at putting it back together again. Although, as with most of my attempts at reconstructing things I have dismantled, it won’t look the same and I’ll probably have a few bits left over!
I finished the last post by proposing that Jung had, in fact, developed a simple but elegant model of cognitive functions. I’ll start from there…
In a rather cute bit of research by Takashi Nakao at Nagoya University, Japan (and a whole host of researchers at Hiroshima University), students were prompted with random pairings of job titles and asked to choose which occupation they thought they could do better. The researchers then used EEG to measure the students’ brain activity in certain areas that are associated with conflict in relation to decisions.
In the first study they demonstrated that the amount of activity recorded was related to the difficulty of choosing between the options. There was more activity (more conflict) as well as a slower reaction time when students were choosing between two options that they found equally attractive.