Decisions have a great impact on our existence. In both our private and professional lives we continuously face – whether we like it or not – a multitude of options that force us to decide one way or another. Videothink presents 7 simple, scientifically proven, tried and tested strategies for decision making.
Making the right decision is an essential part of the way we define ourselves and a key factor of what makes us individuals. For most people, making a decision means weighing up reason and emotions or to the contrary giving precedence to either the mind or the heart.
As most decisions concern forward-oriented events – and thereby the future and that which has yet to occur – decisions are always linked to a sense of uncertainty. If time pressure is added to the decision-making pressure, which in film and video is more often the case than not, the right decision becomes all the more crucial. It can thereby be beneficial to understand the pattern and the mental process behind how we decide.
How to make the right decision?
Ignatius of Loyola, a co-founder of the Jesuit Order, as early as the 16th Century devised a decision-making method for his fellow believers, which according to him, would always lead to the “right” decision. The Jesuit suggested that at first – for the duration of three days – we should act as if we’ve already come to a decision. During this time we then meticulously take note of the emotions, thoughts and dreams tied to this decision. On the fourth day you start the same process over with the decision itself, which you dismiss beforehand. At the end we then compare the notes with a cool head and on this basis we decide on a definite option…and we can rest assured that thanks to Ignatius of Loyola, we have come to the best, humanly possible decision.
In addition or as an alternative there are seven further approaches to this conundrum, each backed by science. All of the sources are identified in the footnotes at the end of the article.
Strategy 1: Research
Feelings aren’t hurdles in decision-making, but rather a constituting factor. And feelings are impulsive. For our earliest ancestors they provided them with the ability to subconsciously make a flash decision and react immediately in life threatening situations. Without feelings – and there’s the science to prove this – no decisions can be made. It is interesting to what extent emotions actually contribute to our decisions, even if they appear to be entirely rational. People who have suffered injury to the part of the brain that processes emotions are unable to make simple, day-to-day decisions unaided. 
When it come to professional decision-making, especially in the film business, this research strategy is essential. Even though emotions can never be completely silenced, in the world of project work it all comes down to know-how and facts. If these are laid out in the open, the decision made will no doubt be sound and you’ll avoid making a haphazard shot in the dark.
To research also means to scrutinise a decision from varying viewpoints. Even though the visualisation of different, possible decisions creates a framing effect for each decision (the brain tries to categorise said decision in a “frame” of reference within all possible options, which leads to a subconscious and thorough evaluation of each decision.) it can also proof to be very productive. Especially if the alternative point of view, consciously takes arguments and perspectives into consideration that from the outset appear to be negative or contradicting. That’s a part of being human too. We shy away from contradiction, instead seeking confirmation for what we already believe to be true. Our brain categorises coinciding arguments above those that call for an opposing standpoint.
If there is a lack of knowledge or information the so-called anchor effect prevents us from making good decisions. It’s in our human nature to always want to find our bearings. We guide ourselves by what is available to us. When in need and perhaps subconsciously, we also let ourselves be led astray by incomplete, irrelevant or false information.  This effect is also used in retail to increase revenue. If a product within a range has an extra high price tag, customers will be drawn to the normal-priced products, as in comparison to the “information anchor” (expensive product) they feel like they’ve comes across a bargain.
Strategy 2: Limit choice
Research however could also be your downfall. More precisely if your research strategy knows no limits. If you want to know absolutely all there is to know, you’ll drown in a flood of information. The Internet – oftentimes the first port of call for any investigative endeavour – is an all-knowing haystack, which can only be of benefit to those who know how to find the needle and evaluate and prioritise information and sources. Taking a step back, is key here.
With information overload, not only does it become impossible to evaluate and make good use of useful facts, we also end up falling victim to the so-called choice-paradox effect. A human being wants to be able to have a choice of possibilities, but within reason. If you have a choice of one chocolate bar out of five, you’ll end up happy with the decision you’ve made. But if we’re overwhelmed by a dozen different options in a supermarket aisle, although we will eventually come to a decision, we will be a lot less content with our chosen chocolate bar.
A good decision and another way to recognise limits is to avoid peer pressure, which can oftentimes influence how we decide. A wrong opinion isn’t made right if more than one person shares it. And a bad decision isn’t made better if the outcome is the result of a group dynamic.
Strategy 3: Good is good enough
If we have an endless supply of information at our disposal and are faced with an infinite amount of options, we tend to make worse decisions than if we have less information and more limited options. This effect is known as the choice-paradox This especially applies to the so-called “maximisers” – the group of people that have a desire to make the best decision, everywhere, every time. The pressure to want to make the best decision theoretically possible means the decision maker is constantly overthrowing previously made decisions. Instability and chaos are the consequences here. These side effects cannot only be observed in big-budget, feature-film productions with inexperienced producers, but also when it comes to the world of singletons and dating apps. Where they are presented with such an overwhelming array of possible dream partners and rather than being content with settling for one lasting relationship, they end up in an emotional burn-out.
Strategy 4: Fearless of the consequences
It’s not only the need for guidance and direction that determines our behaviour. But also fear. We weigh up what we gain or lose with every decision. Gain or loss, which could be either intangible or material.
Unfortunately, as varying studies prove, in the Western world our fear of loss ranks higher than our desire for gain. When we face a decision where the risk of losing or gaining is equal, we are most likely to decide against the risk. Only when the hypothetical gain is twice as likely as any potential loss, do we begin to seriously consider our options. Many decisions thereby aren’t really decisions, but – to quote a term used in psychology – affective forecasting; An action driven by fear instead of a neutral observation of possible courses of action.  Decision makers should take note of a saying that any successful producers and start-up would swear by: The biggest risk is not taking a risk.
The experienced decision maker should hold back when faced with a situation where fear has become a deciding factor. And instead seek advice from someone who might have taken a similar decision and ask them about the resulting consequences they faced. And only then decide for themselves.
Strategy 5: Go with your gut feeling
Tom Manings was one of the first skydiving instructors who threw his students in at the deep end – so to speak. From the very first jump, he taught them about the art of free-fall. (Previously, aspiring skydivers had to do various practice runs attached to a ripcord that opened the parachute automatically the moment they leapt out of the plane). Manings went by the motto: “If in extreme sports you have to stop to think if the conditions are good enough for you to survive the day, the conditions most definitely aren’t good enough.” Only when a gut feeling kicked in, was there reason to rationally question an option.
No decision maker and no manager likes to admit that he/she made a point based on their gut instinct. Science has long ago started exploring the phenomenon of gut feelings. The interplay of complexity, time pressure and the quality of the decision made in combination with gut instinct is the subject of many scientific studies. So far they have come to the conclusion that the more complex the decision, the better it is to rely on instinct. With easier decisions you’re better off using your head. However only if and when you have enough time to carefully weigh up all the pros and cons. In any case the decisions based on gut feelings have a more successful outcome. Of course always on the premise that the decision maker has the necessary knowledge required for the activity.
Decisions made under the influence of extreme emotions should be assessed differently. Those of us who make snap decisions driven by anger, can rest assured that sooner or later a sense of remorse will creep up about the decision made and the consequences that came with it. 
Strategy 6: Not making a decision
Making a decision means making a choice. A choice is made either by us or by circumstance or factors beyond our control. If decision-making is an essential skill in your job description, you can’t justify putting a decision off and not actively confronting it. Also the popular tactic of not facing a decision or unloading it onto someone else until it magically disappears, rarely proves to be beneficial. The mantra of the managers’ elite of the 90s (“Ensure good decisions are assigned to you and bad decisions to your opponent.”) in this day and age of flat hierarchies and social media, won’t necessarily make you come across as a good leader.
It’s a different scenario altogether if you discuss and evaluate possible decisions with everyone involved, only to eventually come to the decision that no decision should be made. To consciously decide against a choice or a solution of a problem is oftentimes a better solution than deciding on something without having discussed the options beforehand.
Those who can’t or shouldn’t decide can take solace in the fact that in hindsight the person who didn’t make the decision will eventually be more receptive to the decision made than the decision makers themselves.
We live forwards and understand backwards. A decision is final and only a few decisions have irrevocable consequences, which – because of their irrevocability – can’t be changed and really aren’t worth losing any sleep over. Because whether right or wrong, good or bad, easy or difficult, one thing’s for sure: There’s a fresh new decision lurking around the corner.
For the really indecisive who can’t decide on one of the aforementioned strategies, Videothink has an exclusive eighth option: If in doubt, just do the right thing!
Did you hear about the story of the director who before facing a tough decision, always eats two pots of yogurt? If so, please get in touch. The same goes, if you have your own experiences, tips and trick you’d like to share and discuss with our readers. We’re happy to receive any feedback and input !
 Antonio Damasio, Neurobiologist, University of Southern California
 Daniel Kahneman, Nobel Prize of Economics and Psychologist / Amos Tversky, Cognitive Scientist
 Sheena Lyengar, Psychologist, Columbia University, New York
 Barry Schwartz, Psychologist, Swarthmore College, Pennsylvania
 Hal Arkes, & Catherine Blumer, Ohio State University / Daniel Gilbert, Harvard
 Ap Dijksterhuis, University of Amsterdam
 Daniel Fessler, University of California, Los Angeles
 Simona Botti, Cornell University / Ann McGill, University of Chicago