Another Gut Check at Decision Time

Posted on October 3, 2011


On Saturday, Jonah Lehrer penned a piece in the Wall Street Journal about decision making in the modern marketplace.  His thesis is that humans believe we can make the best decision to select a product for purchase via reason, but that our brains are severely limited in dealing with facts, which frustrates this approach. The crux of his argument is emotion provides a more reliable decision mechanism—and not just for supermarket shopping.

An experiment at Cornell showed that when confronted with a relatively small amount of facts, rational comparison decisions, or “detail-focus” as is was termed, were very accurate in selecting the best choice, 20% more accurate in fact than emotional, or “feeling-focus” decision making. However, the brain maxes out at a certain number of facts (five to nine) it can remember, track and measure. As a side note, this limitation is the basis behind successful oral and Power Point presentation design for businesses.

Nevertheless, when it came to complex decisions, those involving twelve variables or more, the ‘gut reaction’ subjects made an accurate judgment 70% of the time, while the deliberate “detail-focus” group hit only 25%.

If these consequences are carried forth into the design and construction arena, ‘decisions-by-gut’ become not only viable, but important and reliable. Design is incredibly complex, and most designs rely on such nuance that single design options can have well over twelve differences between each design.

And then, to apply this information to team selection:  why not select and negotiate with the team that feels right, that an administrator trusts?  We all know RFPs are a waste of time because they are pulled together in the last three days before the deadline, and no selection committee actually reads them. Let’s call a spade a spade:  when backed by decision science, the RFP process falls apart like a house of cards.

As the healthcare landscape changes, hospitals and healthcare systems in need of new construction must figure out if they are more concerned with the appearance of fairness or selecting the best team. If the former is more imp0rtant, then by all means, employ the government RFP model and sleep well knowing no one was “excluded”.  However, if the decision is the latter, administrators must decide with courage, using the criteria in their own brains and guts, which is now conveniently backed by science.