This is Colin Powell’s rule. Make a decision with no less than 40% of the information you need but no more than 70%. Anything less and you are just guessing; anything more and you are just wasting time. You can replace “information” with just about anything, and you will realize that this mental model is about encouraging quick yet informed decisions.
Jeff Bezos developed what he calls the regret minimization framework. In it, he asks one to visualize themselves at age 80 and ask if they would regret making (or not making) a decision. This simplifies decisions by making them about one metric: regret.
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MM #5: Stay Within 40-70%
Use to balance information with action.
A famous comedian has clever input on the matter of battling indecision: “My rule is that if you have someone or something that gets 70% approval, you just do it, ’cause here’s what happens. The fact that other options go away immediately brings your choice to 80, because the pain of deciding is over.”
This is surprisingly similar to what former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has to say on the matter. Powell has a mental model about making decisions and coming to a point of action no sooner than necessary yet no longer than necessary.
He says that anytime you face a difficult decision, you should have no less than 40% and no more than 70% of the information you need to make that decision. In that range, you have enough information to make an informed choice but not so much intelligence that you lose your resolve and simply stay abreast of the situation. This makes you faster than more “informed” people and more informed than “fast” people. In a sense, it’s the best of both worlds.
How did Powell come to this mental model on beating indecision? He felt that if you have less than 40% of the information you need, you’re essentially shooting from the hip. You don’t know quite enough to move forward and will probably make a lot of mistakes. You are sacrificing everything just for speed.
Conversely, if you chase down more over 70% of what you think you need (and it’s unlikely that you’ll truly need anything above this level), you will grow overwhelmed, slow, and uncertain. The opportunity may have passed you by and someone else may have beaten you by starting already. You are sacrificing everything just for certainty.
You are actually making the mistake of looking for 100% information and a foolproof plan where failure cannot exist. Many people who search for this don’t realize that they are searching for something that doesn’t exist and only acts to keep their own hands tied. Most engage in over-analysis and research that turns into procrastination, so they need to shoot for a zone of information that makes them uncomfortable.
But in that sweet spot between 40% and 70% information, you have more than enough to go on, and your intuition can fill in the gaps.
For this mental model, we can replace the word “information” with essentially anything else: 40-70% read or learned, 40-70% confidence, 40-70% planned, and so on. At the lower bounds, you are prepared enough to make at least a first step. Keep in mind that while the decision is being played out, you will also gain information, confidence, and knowledge that can bump you toward a higher degree of certainty. They aren’t quite irreversible decisions, but taking action more quickly than not often has no downsides.
Utilize this mental model by intentionally consuming less information and even overgeneralizing – this means to not look at the subtleties of your options. Willfully ignore the gray area and don’t rationalize or justify statements by saying “But-” or “That’s not always true-“
The idea is to focus only on general, broad information and how that affects you. Suppose you are attempting to decide on a restaurant for dinner. How can you think more in black and white terms about something like this?
Overgeneralize your restaurant choices to how you would categorize them in a single phrase. Restaurant A is a place for burgers, despite the fact that there are five menu items that are not burgers. It doesn’t matter – in black and white terms, it’s a burger joint. Restricting the flow of information will naturally keep you within the 40-70% range and get you moving faster than ever.
MM #6: Minimize Regret
Use to consult the future you on decisions.
Once again, Jeff Bezos imparts a drop of decision-making wisdom into our lives. A guy who is one of the richest men in the world obviously has some tricks up his sleeve that got him to where he is.
This is the mental model of avoiding regrets and making regret the centerpiece of our decision-making calculus.
Jeff Bezos once found himself at a crossroads in his life in which he had to make some tough personal resolutions. He came up with a concept he termed the “regret minimization framework.” (“Only a nerd would call” it that, Bezos joked.)
The concept of the regret minimization framework is quite basic. Bezos gave himself three very simple mental directives:
- Project yourself to age 80.
- Imagine yourself looking back on your life at that age, knowing that you want to feel as few regrets as possible.
- Ask yourself, “In X number of years, will I regret taking this action (or not taking this action)?”This mental model takes short-term emotional turmoil out of the equation and really forces perspective. When you project to 80 years old, you suddenly gain clarity on what matters and what does not. Regret is a powerful factor that might tell you more than all the positive sentiments in the world.
It also forces you to think about the future you actually want, as opposed to the one you are currently heading toward. First, you must determine what you want from your life, and then you can tailor your decisions toward it.
For Bezos, the answer was immediately obvious: if he didn’t take the initiative and enter the Internet revolution, he’d regret it when he hit age 80. He’d regret not developing his idea for online book sales. He knew he would not regret failing, but he would definitely regret never giving it a shot.
When Bezos framed his dilemma that way, the decision was almost automatic. He quit his high-paying job at a hedge fund – even walking away from his annual bonus – moved to Seattle, and started running Amazon from his garage.
The Bezos mental model is applicable to almost any undertaking, minor or major. Think of something you always tell yourself you “mean to do,” and usually can quite easily, but don’t for some reason.
You want to start a blog but don’t think you’re a good enough writer. You want to run the Boston Marathon but don’t think you can get in shape. A friend invites you to go skydiving, but the idea scares you to death. But your perceived lack of ability or courage is not the point. You can negotiate with yourself on those topics. But if you were to simply ask yourself, “In X number of years, will I regret taking this action (or not taking this action),” then you’d have a crystal-clear answer as to what you should do.
Let’s take it to a grander, more Bezos-esque scale.
Suppose you have an idea to help build medical facilities in a faraway Third World country. The notion appeals to you in terms of impact, but you’re anxious about the reality of being away from home for a year and living in a place where you might not understand the language, culture, or people. All of these factors are entirely separate from regret – will you regret never taking that chance? All signs point to yes. That means it is important to how you want to see yourself. That’s almost always worth pursuing.