Black and White or Gray All Over: Why Decision-Making is Hard for Some

“We can either see our circumstances in terms of destiny, misfortune, or choice. And if we see it in terms of choice, we can start to think about all the things that are still possible, and use that to empower ourselves,” — Sheena Iyengar, S.T. Lee Professor of Business in the Management Division of the Columbia Business School.

The word “decision” comes with a slew of synonyms: determination, finding, judgment, selection, outcome, resolution, verdict, choice. With numerous ways to qualify one concept, it’s no surprise that for some, the ability to make a decision comes with an equally arduous process.

Humans are faced with making decisions everyday. Some are commonplace and routine, without a lot at stake — what to wear, what to eat for lunch, what television program to watch. Some decisions are infrequent or even once-in-a-lifetime — where to attend college, whom to vote for President, when to change jobs. These decisions, or choices, create the feeling of control, and this idea of control over the environment is a biologically motivated need for evolutionary survival, according to Sheena Iyengar.  “If people did not believe they were capable of successfully producing desired results, there would be very little incentive to face even the slightest challenge. Thus, perception of control is likely adaptive for survival,”[1] We make decisions because we need to feel in control.

There are some who struggle with making decisions. A Wall Street Journal article cites the idea of ambivalence as the reason why some people are better at decision-making than others. Some make “black-and-white” decisions: these decisions are quick, determined. Black-and-white thinkers have less ambivalence. Others decision makers are “gray” meaning the decisions seem less clear or concise — these thinkers have high ambivalence. According to the article, “…thinking in shades of gray is a sign of maturity, enabling people to see the world as it really is.” [2] The higher level of ambivalence results in a greater level of comfort with uncertainty. Black-and-white thinkers are people with a strong need to reach a conclusion. These thinkers are also quicker at making decisions. While gray thinkers with greater ambivalence may be more comfortable with uncertainty, they will also likely procrastinate when it comes to making a decision.

In order to make a decision, uncertainty should be systematically eliminated. Ambivalent thinkers have the ability to evaluate all sides of an argument before coming to a decision. Ambivalent thinkers have the ability to achieve this better than black-and-white thinkers. According to the article, they, “scrutinize carefully the evidence that is presented to them, making lists of pros and cons, and rejecting overly simplified information.”

The Internet has created a forum for access to seemingly unlimited amounts of data and because of this, it is not unfathomable that reaching a decision is harder than before even for the steadfast black-and-white thinkers. This is where collective intelligence helps to bridge the gap between endless data and indecision. Collective intelligence is defined by Wikipedia as, “shared or group intelligence that emerges from the collaboration and competition of many individuals and appears in consensus decision making.”[3]  Having a collective intelligence working with you to make a decision could just be the next step in evolutionary survival.

This is where inqiri steps in. Using technology and the power of collective intelligence, inqiri invites every colorful thinker to the table. So whether you are black-and-white or gray all over, inqiri can help you reach a better decision.

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inqiri is a web application on the leading edge of cognitive science. Combining the insights of collective intelligence with the power of synthetic intelligence, inqiri helps optimize the decision-making process.

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