Making informed decisions through discovery
At some point in our lives, we’ve all had errors in judgment. We make decisions and act without truly identifying the problem, weighting the alternatives, and understanding the consequences. As a result, our lives are shaped by decisions made with only partial information and what feels right.
This disadvantaged decision making is most prevalent in our personal lives. Why is this? If we are sick, our doctor runs tests to determine the cause of our illness and identify the appropriate course of treatment. When our car breaks down, our mechanic examines the systems in the vehicle to understand what parts to replace. Tests are run, facts are gathered, and analysis is done. Why can’t the same rigorous and quantitative approach be applied to our personal lives?
The reason is that in our personal lives, we don’t often care to acknowledge, let alone identify, problems in our lives. Therefore, the measurement and tracking our personal activity and behavior needs to be framed around discovery and not definition.
In his recent New York Times Magazine article “The Data-Driven Life“, Gary Wolf explores how our behavior is changing as technology advances are allow our daily activities to be recorded, analyzed, and interpreted. Until recently, the idea of tracking one’s activities and deriving meaning was a manual and time consuming process. However, as Wolf points out, four things have changed:
“First, electronic sensors got smaller and better. Second, people started carrying powerful computing devices, typically disguised as mobile phones. Third, social media made it seem normal to share everything. And fourth, we began to get an inkling of the rise of a globally superintelligence known as the cloud.”
Although these advances afford us a greater ability to record activities, there is one challenge that exists: the challenge of adoption. Up until now, the general population hasn’t engaged in such discovery because such activity hasn’t been easily integrated into every day life. As I’ve previously written, tools like Fitbit, Toyota Prius, and Nike+ are all helping us adopt a lifestyle of discovery.
As more products and services are designed around the idea of discovery, we will learn to make more informed decisions because we will come to expect feedback that helps us understand the effects of our actions. Making more informed decisions doesn’t have to be about understanding the specific problem, it is about learning to reason, think critically, and see the patterns of our behavior.
New York Times Magazine: The Data-Driven Life