Column: Humans are binary decision makers


Commentary by Paula Presnoples

Change is looming and you need to make a decision about your future. It might be a health crisis that requires a lifestyle change, or a career change or even something so mundane as where to eat dinner tonight. All require decision-making, a process that can create anxiety and stress.

It is no accident that the language used to program our computers is binary. Humans are binary too. When we have to make a decision we break it down to a “yes” or “no” binary equation. This sounds complicated but it isn’t. We just take the situation and reduce it to its smallest common denominator and begin there. For example: when you are trying to make a big decision like buying a house, you make many small decisions that lead you to the final outcome.

In business today many customer service groups use decision trees to arrive at solutions. Decision trees ask a variety of yes and no questions. The answer leads to the next question until a final conclusion is reached. Engineers are great at drawing schematics of the decision making process; if the answer is yes the arrow points one way to the next step in the process and if the answer is no an arrow points in a different direction. These lead to the ultimate decision.

Why is all this important to you? Many people get stuck trying to make decisions. Overcome by the size and scope of the problem at hand. Often it is because they are not breaking the decision down into its smallest parts but rather trying to answer a complicated question in one step. It is like trying to eat an apple in one bite, it’s easy when you take small bites at the apple, impossible when you try to eat it whole. So the next time you are facing a decision, which seems impossible or just difficult, remember the apple and just take one, yes or no bite at a time.

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