Better judgments Part 1

Better judgments Part 1

We can’t measure everything. Beauty, love, affection, caring, the meaning of an abstract painting, some ethereal music – these are important parts of our lives but measuring them is a subjective business. The coffee flavour I like may be quite different from your preference. What makes me laugh or cry may leave you unamused or unmoved. We are unique but we live in a collective world. We depend on others and they need us. Our interactions and relationships demand judgment. We often make more than a thousand judgments an hour.

Scientific data helps us assess situations and people. There is a lot of it about. Some of it is spurious, some not suitable for what we need to decide. Finding the right data to answer a question is a primary skill we need in today’s world of knowledge. Knowledge is experience and needs to be treated with care. Wrongly applied it leads to disaster.

All judgments are made for the purpose of forecasting. They enable you to apply decisions which lead to a result you want. They are important. Can you improve them?

Thinking things through is the first rule of forecasting. It requires you to apply imagination and creativity to your process. You fail if your thinking is purely lineal or logical. “Straightjacket thinking” as I call it is death to forecasting because things only work out logically some of the time. Often they don’t. When should you be coldly logical and when imaginatively disruptive? What signals tell you which thinking mode to adopt?

The answer depends on the person you are. If creativity comes naturally to you, start with disruptive thinking. If you are a logical person, start with reason. In both cases the important cue to watch for is when to switch to the other mode. You do this just before you adopt a conclusion that you think will satisfy you. This is a tricky moment. If your conclusion becomes too set you will abandon your second look at the problem.

Inherently logical people must set their reasonableness aside and indulge in some wild thinking. You do this with mental cartoons, pictures that are exaggerated, grotesque, even frightening. You will remember the absurd because it stimulates your brain. You use it to cast your imagination to conceive of outlandish opinions. Thoughts so absurd they could not possibly happen. The trouble is that they could – and a version of them certainly will.

If, on the other hand, you are naturally creative and the weird pictures come to you easily you will need to identify the moment when your imagination must be tamed, put away for a while and your mind must adopt a step by step approach. Lineal thinking is hard for the very creative but they need the discipline to practice it to balance their disruptive ideas.

To start the process of better thought-out forecasting let’s take an obvious example. Before you leave home you look out of the window and decide whether it will rain or not. You may even look at the weather on your cell phone. The process is a simple one – or is it? You have done it so many times that you probably don’t even think consciously about it.

What goes on in your mind could be something like this. Image of serene, windless, sunny outdoors. Is that a black cloud you see creeping over the horizon? Does it look as though the trees and grasses are bending in the wind a bit? Is the person across the road carrying a raincoat? Suddenly you are seeing pictures of gales, rain, telephone lines down, cars with lights on and rapidly moving windscreen wipers. Better take an umbrella.

Your conclusion is sensible – provided you are a good forecaster. If you aren’t you will carry umbrellas everywhere with you, unnecessarily. So what you have to do is temper the storm images with logic – weather reports, demonstrably fine day – and arrive at a conclusion that gives you the best chance of being right. Then act with a sprinkle of prudence as well.

Tomorrow we will look at how memory and forecasting link together.

Then you can improve both.