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Deep Thoughts, Decision Making and Buying into Your Own Bias

If you occupy a decision-making role in your nonprofit association and that role involves buying services and products, you might want to heed the old aphorism “know thyself.”

In college, (many many moons ago) I studied Psychology. And one item I recall is that true self-knowledge involves awareness, but that self-awareness doesn’t always benefit us in the decision-making process. There is a psychological perspective here, and it does not begin with an assumption that we are fundamentally irrational. Rather, we tend to adhere to a different logic when faced with big decisions.

Let me explain. Say that you must decide between alternative approaches to upgrading your association’s management software.

Should you go to the cloud for a subscription to an association management package? Alternatively, should you try to clean up what you have and upgrade the system you have had for the last decade?

Before you decide, take a breath and consider the advice in a web article on OpenLearn:

“…even where we make conscious efforts to make decisions according to a formally rational process, we often need to make simplifying assumptions and accept limits on the availability of information and the thoroughness of our analysis.”

Deep thoughts, right!?

As decision makers we often use what are known as heuristics — a range of simplifying and confidence-sustaining mental short cuts — to make our decisions, sometimes in lieu of pausing to make a full analysis. The latter is often what the situation calls for in fast-paced, competitive situations, but it has some major pitfalls:

  1. Decision makers have limits on time and resources available to gather data needed to make a decision.

  2. Everyone can cope with only a finite amount of complexity.

  3. We tend to accept the aforementioned limits and live with resulting lack of thoroughness in the process.

All the above are mostly unconscious and are part of the array of coping mechanisms that help us sustain our comfort level. Nevertheless, the process involved in heuristics leads to biases in how we frame the problem, the limitations on how we use the information we gathered and the judgment filters, which sustain our final decision.

Then there is the understandable need to maintain our self-esteem and to ignore information that might show the final decision in an unfavorable light. If that product you bought works well, you take the credit. If for some reason it bombs, you might blame the vendor and his false promises.

So, from a psychological perspective, the decision maker needs to understand that:

  1. most people are driven to seek mastery of their environment

  2. bias is what is involved in our coping mechanisms, but can hamper the best decision making

Whatever your position on your nonprofit association’s decision tree, when it comes to that important upgrade in technology, give us a call.  We can help overcome the complacency of heuristics and help make the best decision in discovering the technology you’re looking for.


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