How to challenge your perspective

Professional investigators, like journalists, police detectives and doctors, try to get as many perspectives on situations as possible before taking action (Policemen use eyewitnesses, Doctors use exams and tests, scientific studies use large sample sizes). They know that human perception, including their own, is highly fallible and biased by many factors.

The only way to obtain an objective understanding is to compare several different perspectives.  What – you mean there is more than one perspective?


If you could point to one word, to one factor, to one element or cause of what happens to you in your life, it is decision.

Obviously there are plenty of Black Swan’s (unexpected random events like hurricanes and terrorism) out there to get in the way of what you want in life, but nothing you can control impacts your life more than decision.

33_dont_worry_be_happyHow would life be different if you knew you were going to make the right decision, every time?  Every time?!  Is that even possible?

Did you know that in life, there is almost always a best decision?  What would it be worth to have a simple systematic approach to decision where the guidelines are from your head and heart?

Most people are paralyzed with uncertainty about whether they should:

Say Yes.
Make a purchase.
Move from one place to another…
Quit their job…
Decide between committing one person or another.
Start a business…
Send the letter or not…
Decide between hiring one person or another.
Get a divorce….
Send your kids to public or private school….
Choose between a new car, a used car or no car….
Go back to school to get more education….
Fire the person or not.
Invest in stocks, bonds, real estate and not screw up.
Accurately plan for their future in all areas.

Now STOP.  Its time to recognize that you are going to make mistakes based on faulty data (limited perspective) from time to time.  There is, however, a way to minimize that.  But first, you need to understand the types of mistakes that actually might get made.

One way to categorize mistakes is into these categories:

Stupid: Absurdly dumb things that just happen. Stubbing your toe, dropping your pizza on your neighbor’s fat cat or poking yourself in the eye with a banana.
Simple: Mistakes that are avoidable but your sequence of decisions made inevitable. Having the power go out in the middle of your party because you forgot to pay the rent, or running out of beer at said party because you didn’t anticipate the number of guests.
Involved: Mistakes that are understood but require effort to prevent. Regularly arriving late to work/friends, eating fast food for lunch every day, or going bankrupt at your start-up company because of your complete ignorance of basic accounting.
Complex: Mistakes that have complicated causes and no obvious way to avoid next time. Examples include making tough decisions that have bad results, relationships that fail, or other unpleasant or unsatisfying outcomes to important things.

When trying to understand your own mistakes in complex situations you should work in the same way.

Start by finding someone else to talk to about what happened. Even if no one was within 50 meters when you crashed your best friend’s BMW into your neighbor’s living room, talking to someone else gives you the benefit of their experience applied to your situation. They may know of someone that’s made a similar mistake or know a way to deal with the problem that you don’t.

But most importantly, by describing what happened you are forced to break down the chronology and clearly define (your recollection of) the sequence of events. They may ask you questions that surface important details you didn’t notice before. There may have been more going on (did the brakes fail? Did you swerve to avoid your neighbor’s daughter? etc.) than you, consumed by your emotions about your mistake, realized.

If multiple people were involved (say, your co-workers), you want to hear each person’s account of what happened. Each person will emphasize different aspects of the situation based on their skills, biases, and circumstances, getting you closer to a complete view of what took place.

If the situation was/is contentious you may need people to report their stories independently – police investigators never have eyewitness collaborate. They want each point of view to be delivered unbiased by other eyewitnesses (possibly erroneous) recollections. Later on they’ll bring each account together and see what fits and what doesn’t.

Remember that your biases are based on your previous experiences, education and environment.  If you want to make better decisions, you need to evaluate decisions more objectively.