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In her national best seller “Thinking in Bets,” author and world renowned poker player Annie Duke proclaims every choice is a bet.

In her book, she explains it is impossible to know all the information required to make the perfect decision every time we are faced with one. As you might imagine this is especially true in poker. Duke does a nice job of bringing in solid, cited, psychological evidence to point out the human brain works against us in the decision-making process by unconsciously leading us into various pitfalls. Interestingly, the smarter the person, the deeper the pit. Duke says the best way out is to make choices you would actually bet on.

I chose the book based on the subtitle “making smarter decisions when you don’t have all the facts” because making decisions in public service or natural resources comes with a high expectation of decision making along with every kind of information possible be it bias, helpful, or otherwise.

Often the process includes many factors like stake holders, timetables, and political pressures. I was also interested in this read because I thought it might help me better understand how to interpret environmental issues to people who don’t necessarily have all the facts.

The Bias Battle

Bias seems to be one of the biggest pitfalls for the human brain, according to Duke and her research says we suffer from brain patterns that are unconsciously self-serving to a fault in terms of decision making.

Resulting Bias - Happens when our brain is to judge the quality of a decision based on the result or outcome. However, good decisions can lead to bad outcomes just as bad decisions can lead to good outcomes. Instead of basing our thinking on one single outcome, we should think in terms of percentages and learn from documented experience.

Conformation Bias - By the time we reach adulthood most of us have started a life path and shaped our own worldview filled beliefs and opinions we have learned and adopted throughout our lives. The human brain will always tend to place more emphasis on information that confirms our opinions and beliefs rather than information that may challenge them. Thus, we confirm or justify or opinions and beliefs and narrow our view of the world causing us to miss out on key information which leads to poor decision making. Duke says one way to overcome this bias is to form groups with differing viewpoints to make decisions that will ensure more possible outcomes are considered.

Self-Serving Bias - is simply making excuses and then believing them. “I flunked the test because the teacher doesn’t like me.” To avoid this bias, find someone or better yet a group to keep you accountable.

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Negativity Bias - Bad is worse than good, humans actually feel twice as bad about a wrong decision as we do good about a correct decision. Instead of avoiding this discomfort we should welcome failure as the best teacher and learn all we can from the choices we make.

After reading the book it is easy to see how we continue to make baffling mistakes and ignore the potential outcomes when we don’t have the facts.

Below are a few facts for your consideration.

* The annual global consumption rate of resources is 1.7x more than the earth can produce in a single year.

* In 2018 we released 37.1 billion metric tons of CO2 into the atmosphere from fossil fuels alone.

* The Dead Zone in the Gulf of Mexico measures 8,776 square miles.

As Duke points out it is easy to say a decision is bad once we know the result or have key facts and information after it has been made.

The question remains will we be able to learn from mistakes and make our experience count for something, will we be able to work together listen to diverse viewpoints, and hold ourselves accountable. Will we even make the conscious choice to try and see past our bias and acknowledge a problem?

Maybe if we as a society can start to think of our resources like money we can begin to make more choices we can bet on for the future.

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