Incubating a wise decision

Gotta get more information to make a good decision
Can't have too much information
The more information, the better the decision

The cognitive strategies of the left brain predictably reason through the need for more information in order to make effective decisions in some of the following ways:
  • Either I have enough information already or I don't. (dichotomous reasoning)
  • There's no proof that I have enough and no way to verify that I don't need more (empirical reasoning)
  • How I reach the ultimate decision has nothing to do with what information I make the decision with (compartmentalized reasoning)
  • I'm in obvious danger of not having enough information to identify misinformation, false assumptions and mere conjectures (superficial reasoning)
  • The need for more information is a given that is established by preparing to make a decision (categorical reasoning)
  • More information makes the decision better because the resulting decision will address more issues and constituencies (reductionistic reasoning)
  • The decision needs to be made with the best information possible and not get derailed by half-hearted efforts to gather information (convergent reasoning)
Meanwhile, the right brain can see all of these justifications for more information as flawed strategies. They each play into a process that will yield ineffective decisions. They pass up a process of arriving at a wise decision with less action. The right brain favors making decisions by a process of incubation that utilizes the left brain effectively.

To incubate a wise decision:
  1. Consider reaching the decision by a combination of taking action and receiving what comes to mind (perspiration and inspiration)
  2. Get a feeling for both leaving shaky ground where anxiety drove the decision making process and standing on solid ground of safety
  3. Get a sense of being free to be more creative, playful and spontaneous with this opportunity
  4. Take stock of what you already know about the entire situation that calls for some resolution or conclusion.
  5. Tie as many of those facts together into a cohesive picture or story
  6. Reflect on the accumulated inventory of known information and realize what remains a question, unknown or puzzle
  7. Consider proceeding without more information and see how that feels in your heart or gut
  8. Get more information if a felt sense arises to clear up a particular doubt, suspicion or curiosity
  9. When it feels like the remainder can be handled by inspiration, stop taking action to make the decision.Put the decision on a back burner, sleep on it, or give it a rest until it comes back to mind out of the blue
  10. When the decision dawns on you, appreciate how it feels and how it came to you
  11. Observe how it combined what you found out for yourself and what came to you when you opened to receive it
  12. Act on the basis of this wise decision which came by incubation.
You may notice that most of these steps won't break a sweat. The right brain works best when we are still, contemplative and fascinated with the present moment. Our left brain is afraid of being still because it handles dangerous situations with immediate actions. Being still connotes becoming the next meal for any predator larger or faster than our upright, two-footed bodies. Surviving calls for fight or flight, not serenity and receptivity according the hemisphere on the left.


  1. I never thought of a wise decision as being left-brain because I'm usually a right-brain thinker at best. You are talking more about corporate/work decisions not personal ones. You're also saying that anxiety can't drive a decision because anxiety is useless. I will try your approach next time a huge decision is due. My last one was whether or not to leave a party.

  2. Thanks for adding your insights here. I'm like you: right brained and naturally suspicious of quantitative and overly logical approaches to decision making.
    Rather than framing anxiety as completely useful, I'd say it's a useful indicator that the decision under consideration is based on fear, lacking creativity and poised to miss an opportunity or make a problem worse.
    I hope these ideas helps you make your next "huge decision".

  3. I wonder how much a decision, though, is based on environment as well (Maslov's hierarchy of needs) as personality. My son and husband are perfectionists and are very anxious when making a decision. I, on the other hand, tend to be much slower and deliberate in everything I do so I tend not to regret decisions (it was the best I could do at the time).

    I was wondering also what you think of "gut feelings" which we are told in the corporate world is not necessarily good (as there is no proof). This is where I think there is a gender gap, and I wonder if that is because women are socialized to use both sides of the brain (recent studies showed women tend to use both sides of the brain and correspond between the two sides, where men tend to use only one side at a time. The researchers thought this might be due to child rearing, where quick decisions can mean life or death).

    BTW: this does not mean I think all mean use just one side of the brain, nor that men don't use gut instinct. Rather I feel our society appreciates "women's intuition" but expect those in a corporate situation to base decisions on "fact".

  4. Virginia: Thanks for the thoughtful comment.
    I'm not sure what you mean by "environment", but there are several that could undermine the incubation process: facing intense pressures (deadline, cost, downsizing, etc), unresolved issues (dilemmas, nagging doubts insecurities), antagonistic characters in the setting (guilt trippers, control freaks, narcissists, etc.), or contradictory expectations (do the paperwork and the actual work, do it faster and better, save money and increase quantity, etc). All of these environments would create low level unmet needs, produce anxiety and shift to left brain strategies.

    I just finished reading Carol Dweck's book: Mindset. She has me thinking that perfectionism correlates with "identifying with fixed traits". Rather than being a work in progress, perfectionists are living up to a reputation already set in stone, in danger of tarnishing their image, avoiding risks that could shatter their confidence and in jeopardy of feeling like a nobody when things go wrong. The cure is to dismiss the fixed identity and think like you do about decisions -- which avoids regrets and does the best you can.

    The 12 step protocol in this post is designed to get reliable results from "gut feelings". Most people are too agitated or too preoccupied with thinking -- to get any uncannily accurate, timely input. My experience with gut feelings are like a "still small voice", "glimmer of a suggestion" or a "slight impulse" that cannot be sensed when we're not calm and still. Most "gut feelings" are actually wishful thinking which deserves the bad reputation it has earned.

    There are segments of the business world that value right brain functionality: the design professions, advertising, innovative entrepreneurship, film & theater, child development, counseling & social work, etc. In those worlds, as many guys demonstrate "women's intuition" as ladies. The work cultures in those "industries" realize they can kill the goose that lays the golden eggs if they get too tense, overloaded with information, hung up on pressures or focused on results.

  5. The crazy thing about having a "reason" is that it isn't any better as evidence than intuition. It's possible for many conclusions to sound right, despite coming from too little or too much information. But it's impossible to verify any of them - however logical they seem - without evidence.

    It's like the way corporations and new ventures invest in ideas. Business plans sound great, and new business development might have a great projection, but it's all speculation until the results come in. So the opportunity cost of trusting intuition vs. thought-logic cannot be found without some way to review.

    To bridge the divide between types of decision-making processes for structured settings such as business, we can introduce better systems for rapid prototyping. Try it. Test it. Withhold judgment. Shut up and watch. Then review. Maybe intuition is right and maybe it's wrong for a situation - either way, only time and results can reveal in uber-rational decision-making environments what we should come to trust.

  6. Joseph: Thanks for adding another level to this.. You're right that choosing between logic or intuition, or even trusting intuition (that may actually be wishful thinking), can only be speculative until there's evidence for making the choice. Rapid prototyping is a great way to ground the speculation about issues that can be modeled. I suspect lots more decisions in "uber rational environments" could be prototyped than get explored that way. Many decisions defy modeling because they deal with soft issues like human whims, moods and hang-ups. Lots of issues remain speculative until long after the bets are placed, the risk is taken, and the big decision is history. Taking the risk is the prototype. As you said, rapid prototyping works in structured settings like business. Great insights!