How can we make better decisions?

Should I hit the snooze button or drag myself out of bed? The blue or white shirt? Cheerios or Lucky Charms? Orange juice, Coffee or tea? These are just a few possible questions you may ask yourself… before breakfast! And there are a myriad of other possibilities dependant upon culture and heritage.

Human beings don’t stop making decisions, all day, every day.

Researchers from many disciplines have tried to calculate the number of choices we make but opinions range from 70 to 35,000 per day. We are all different and so the number of choices we make will depend on so many factors.

What we do know from research (Wansink and Sobal, 2007) is that we make many more subconscious choices than conscious ones. Our mind uses the memory of past experiences to make very quick judgements and decisions. Our subconscious brings bias into play to help us act fast and in accordance with our lived experiences.

In contrast to our biology, the work cultures and structures we have created often assume we operate in a mechanistic fashion.

Many models for effective decision-making focus on evaluating information and the cognitive process involved. Even our dictionaries describe ‘Decision’ in terms of a conclusion reached after consideration. This is decision making as a conscious process.

Don’t JFDI, ORJI !

There’s a common last-minute approach in decision-making which boils down to ‘presenting/accepting a senior authority to just get the job done right now!’ There’s no time left for discussion and so it becomes a charge to get it into the ‘done’ pile. This “JUST ….. DO IT!” approach may be expedient at that moment in time but it’s not exemplary leadership (as illustrated in this blog on the JFDI culture). And yet it’s quite familiar, we can still meet JFDIs time and time again as examples of decisiveness but it’s often brought about by a log-jam created through poor decision-making. Could a different framework provide better decisions?

A lot of actions we take based on possible choices arise due to very human processes. The Observation-Reaction-Judgement-Intervention cycle, developed in 1987 by Edgar Schein, is a helpful framework for considering the way human beings make choices when interacting with others.

the ORJI cycle
Observation, Reaction, Judgement, Intervention

Schein suggests that with every interaction, we go through these stages;

  • Observation (O): Sensation, perception, noticing, e.g. she looks flustered.
  • Emotional Reaction (R): Feeling, emotional response, e.g. I’m concerned.
  • Judgement (J): Thought process, cognitive response, analysis, evaluation, e.g. keeping her calm will help.
  • Intervention (I): Choice, intervention, decision, action, e.g. I will reassure her.

Look at the activity in the next step.


Brian Wansink, Jeffery Sobal (2007). Mindless Eating: The 200 Daily Food Decisions We Overlook. Environment and Behavior, vol. 39, 1: pp. 106-123. (opens in a new window)

Toby Hazelwood (2019). JFDI — When rationality and common sense leave the building… Available online at [Last access: July 2020]