How to Make Better Decisions About Coronavirus

Thomas Davenport – MIT Sloan Management Review

It’s generally far easier to make decisions badly than to make them well, even at the best of times. Knowing that is the first step towards countering it, and this post gives a pretty standard account of a range of cognitive biases which may be relevant in the context of COVID-19.

Nine biases are covered in the post, some more obviously of particular relevance to present circumstances than others. The last two are perhaps most pertinent. Neglect of probability is essentially the same point made in Scott Alexander’s much more detailed argument, that structuring thinking in terms of probabilities is harder than the attractive simplicity of binary choices. And perhaps the most challenging of all, normalcy bias. What is normal is a really useful guide to what is to come, until it isn’t. There is a lot of rhetoric around at present about things not going back to the way things were and about the need for and desirability of a new normal. But we have seen from other crises that the sense of what is normal, the sense of there being a natural order of things (often reinforced, as it happens, by a poor grasp of probability) can too easily overwhelm the sense of opportunity and possibility which the crisis itself has created. Normalcy bias is part of what made the crisis what it is, but it is also part of how we will manage the aftermath, with the risk of becoming part of why fewer lessons will have been learned and applied when we come to look back at this period in the years to come.

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