The Covid-19 pandemic thrust the world - and its decision-makers - into a state of extreme uncertainty. It has created the most difficult and complex backdrop to making critical decisions for many decades.
In the face of huge uncertainty and complexity, strategic decisions about human lives, and livelihoods, had to be made at a previously unimaginable pace by politicians, medical professionals and business leaders.
Everyone will have a view on the quality, and the impact, of their choices - but how can leaders learn how to make better decisions, in times of crisis and beyond?
“The Covid-19 pandemic represents an acute threat to human beings’ welfare, health and economic well-being at a global level,” says Dr Barbara Fasolo, Associate Professor of Behavioural Science in the Department of Management at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). “So how do we avoid decision traps and make better decisions when the stakes are so high - and when it is so important that our leaders make the right decisions to safeguard health and economic wellbeing?”
Dr Fasolo leads the online certificate course Decision-Making: Judgements, Biases, and Nudges which aims to help leaders screen out ‘the noise’ of judgements and biases and concentrate on the scientific process of decision-making.
In situations of uncertainty, like Covid-19, human beings are more likely to miscalculate risk and make mistakes, says Dr Fasolo.
“Human beings are prone to errors when making decisions in unpredictable situations - because of the way our brains are wired to make inferences about our world and assess risk,” she explains
“There are so many external factors which can influence our decisions in subtle ways unless we take control and become aware,” says Dr Fasolo. “This course ensures their most important decisions are less influenced by irrelevant factors and driven by their real values.
“We explain and practice a process for making faster and better decisions even in times of unprecedented uncertainty and pressure. We also present new research to help leaders and decision-makers spot biases and make de-biased decisions. Our objective is to help and support leaders through this incredibly difficult period - one decision at a time.
Why does this matter so much?
“In 2018, a future jobs report by the World Economic Forum, said decision-making was the top skill expected to remain overwhelmingly human. It is a crucial skill hard to automate - so this course is extremely relevant for all executives,” says Dr Fasolo, who has supported executives to make better decisions for more than a decade.
A 2019 study by global consultancy McKinsey suggested 61% of business leaders felt most of their decision-making time was used ineffectively.
This course aims to make that decision-making - and decision-making time - much more effective. Participants take a survey at the start of the course to discover the advantages and disadvantages of their personal decision-making style, and then use tools and techniques to improve and capitalise on their strengths.
The course aligns with LSE’s motto Rerum cognoscere causas - ‘understanding the causes of things’.
“The LSE has taught social sciences for 125 years - and this course treats decision-making as a social discipline, allowing participants to discover the social causes of poor and excellent decisions,” says Dr Fasolo.
“It shows when making decisions in a social context is likely to be biased and how to leverage that context and other help to make better decisions.
“We want students to recognise what a big decision is, and work on improving the process that they use in making that decision. They record that decision and the processes followed, then come back to it after some time to review. You only get better at making decisions through practice.”
The course teaches how to evaluate decisions based on what is controllable and trainable - the process. It flips on its head how we normally think about good decision-making, and recognises that a decision is often a cocktail of judgments and assumptions.
It aims to compensate for blind spots - like cognitive bias and automatic judgements - and also teaches participants to learn the distinction between decision and choice.
The course is targeted at anyone dealing with important decisions, either in private or public organisations, as well as small enterprises - and those keen to use behavioural tools for improving decision-making generally, and understanding more about unconscious influences on decisions we make intuitively.
“We provide participants with a robust framework to improve their ability to design interventions to improve decision-making - so they apply the new insights and framework to find new solutions to a live decision problem they might be facing,” says Dr Fasolo.
“As decision scientists, we think the real problem is not decision fatigue, but overthinking the little choices and under-thinking the big decisions that have bias built in. The course participants learn how to make the most important decision of all - which decisions are worth thinking about and which are not.”
Interested? Find out more about the LSE Decision-Making: Judgements, Biases, and Nudges online certificate course.