One Choice

August 17, 2013 |  by

Sometimes the best decision comes from only having one choice.

Conditions for Intuitive Expertise: A Failure to Disagree (2009), a joint paper by Daniel Kahneman and Gary Klein, describes how firefighters use intuition to make split-second life or death decisions. Rather than considering a range of options, intuitive decision-making considers only a single best option.

In fact, the commanders usually generated only a single option, and that was all they needed. They could draw on the repertoire of patterns that they had compiled during more than a decade of both real and virtual experience to identify a plausible option, which they considered first. They evaluated this option by mentally simulating it to see if it would work in the situation they were facing…. If the course of action they were considering seemed appropriate, they would implement it. If it had shortcomings, they would modify it. If they could not easily modify it, they would turn to the next most plausible option and run through the same procedure until an acceptable course of action was found.

Klein calls this type of decision making a recognition-primed decision (RPD). System 1 (intuitive) thinking brings a best option to mind, then System 2 (rational) thinking checks to see if it will work.

In the 1940s, Dutch psychologist Adriaan de Groot found chess masters behave the same way. They see the right move immediately, without considering other options.

RPD is a bit of a mouthful. We’ll need a better name.

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2 Comments


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