Google is a famously data-obsessed company. Cassie Kozyrkov’s job is to make sure they’re using that data to make the best possible decisions.
A South African with an impressive collection of degrees in fields ranging from statistics to psychology, Kozyrkov has trained more than 17,000 employees at the search giant on how to generate, parse, and act on data in the smartest way possible.
So basically, she’s one of the best-placed people in the world to give advice to business leaders on how to make tough choices in our complicated, chaotic world. Helpfully, she just shared her number one tip with Quartz.
“What would it take to change your mind?”
When Quartz reached out to Kozyrkov for help with an upcoming guide on decision making, Google’s decision-making guru said that just one single question could have an outsized impact on the quality of your decisions: “What would it take to change your mind?”
Kozyrkov went on to explain:
Most people don’t ask this question enough and you might be surprised how much your team’s decision-making improves when you start every decision with it. Coming up with an answer forces the team to confront their pre-existing opinions, identify the extent to which their mind is already set, understand how they navigate their context, clarify their assumptions, declare the information they need, and add structure to the decision process. It also adds a layer of protection against cognitive biases like confirmation bias.
Asking what information you would need to change your mind not only forces you to make explicit the data and thought process that’s gone into your decision, it also focuses the mind squarely on the possibility that you might be wrong. Kozyrkov is far from the only decision-making expert who recommends forcing ourselves into a little more intellectual humility.
Always be on the lookout for your own stupidity.
Warren Buffett’s right-hand man Charlie Munger, for instance, has long advised searching out possible errors in your thinking, rather than attempting to prove yourself right. “It is remarkable how much long-term advantage people like us have gotten by trying to be consistently not stupid, instead of trying to be very intelligent,” he has said.
Similarly, when faced with a important decision, Don Moore, a UC Berkeley business professor and author of the new book Perfectly Confident, recommends asking yourself, “Why might I be wrong? What information out there suggests I’m wrong? Or what do others who believe differently know that I don’t?”
Hal Gregersen, the executive director of the MIT Leadership Center and author of another new book on smarter problem solving, has offered a slightly different take on the same advice. He suggests that everyday you wake up and ask yourself, “What am I going to be wrong about today?”
I could go on with similar advice from other smart people, but the underlying pattern is clear. We make better decisions when we stop gathering information to try to prove ourselves right, and instead accept we’re likely being a bit dumb in some way and try to prove ourselves wrong.
So next time you’re facing a tough choice, take a deep breath and remind yourself that you’re likely missing important facts, relying on incorrect assumptions, or falling victim to faulty reasoning. Trying to sniff those out those errors is the best way to ensure you make the highest quality decision possible.