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How rationality helps shed decision-making bias

SmartBrief is partnering with Big Think to create a weekly video spotlight in SmartBrief on Leadership called “VIP Corner: Video Insights Powered by Big Think.” This week, we’re featuring Julia Galef, president of the Center for Applied Rationality.

The Center for Applied Rationality uses research about how humans reason and make decisions and about errors that occur during those events to teach people how they can improve decision making, Galef says. Rationality is “a significant public good” that should be more widespread across society, she says.

One reason CFAR began was to spread techniques that help people improve decision making and participate in more rational thinking, because “society would look very different” if rational thinking were a more common practice, Galef says. She says that with more rationality, constituents would question politicians’ claims and demand more evidence, money would be better spent within society and people would be more aware of bias.

Galef cites the “commitment effect” as a cognitive bias that affects many people when they are making decisions. The effect causes people to hold onto a plan even after it has stopped working or has become destructive because they do not want the plan or time put into it to go to waste. Techniques such as “looking at a problem as if you were an outsider” can help people move past such roadblocks, she says.

Intel is a prime example of how looking at a problem from the outside can help people avoid the commitment effect, Galef says. In 1985, the company was invested in manufacturing memory chips, but when the co-founders considered how they were losing money every year, they asked themselves what a new CEO would do. They decided that the new CEO would abandon the memory business, so that’s what they did, leading the company to success. “So at the Center for Applied Rationality, we’re taking that research, teaching people about the biases, where they occur, when we’re vulnerable to biases and then teaching them simple and easy mental habits like looking at a problem as if you’re an outsider to overcome those biases,” Galef says.

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