• Joumana Elomar

Before Big Decisions: 12 Questions to Check Bias

When making big decisions, it can be easy for bias to slip in. This can lead to irrational choices, and ultimately costly mistakes. Even experts fall victim to bias. Why? Because bias—the systematic errors in our thinking—happens when people process information. And in the end, even experts are just people. But what if we could consistently sidestep bias?

The Checklist

In 2011, prolific psychologist, economist and author of 'Thinking Fast and Slow' Daniel Kahneman published a 'Decision Quality Checklist' for executive decision-makers. In the list, there are 12 questions designed to help us check for predictable biases. Kahneman notes that this list isn't designed for small decisions, but for big decisions. Especially, the decisions that affect things that occur routinely.

When we look at the list, we can see that the questions are useful for all decision-makers, and not just executives. To make it more applicable, Momentum has slightly altered the questions, and organised them into four areas of bias:

  1. The affect heuristic: When we rely on our emotions to make decisions

  2. The availability heuristic: When we rely or use information we heard recently to make decisions

  3. Confirmation bias: When we seek, interpret, prefer and remember information that confirms our prior ideas.

  4. Risk aversion: When we tend to prefer predictable outcomes, even if other outcomes have an equal or higher chance of being better for us.

Area 1: Affect Heuristic

These questions aim to sidestep choices grounded purely in emotion and the self-serving bias (our tendency to attribute our success to personal characteristics). Note: The first question should never be asked directly! It just something to consider.

  1. Is there any reason to suspect self-interest?

  2. Have you fallen in love with an idea?

  3. Were there different opinions? Were they explored adequately?

Area 2: Availability Heuristic

These questions aim to help us avoid making decisions based on information we learnt recently.

  1. Is the diagnosis overly influenced by past success stories?

  2. Have credible alternatives been considered?

  3. If you were to make this decision again in a year, what would you want to know, and can you find this information now?

Area 3: Confirmation Bias

These questions help avoid confirmation bias, as well as anchoring (when we tie our decision-making too heavily to information we received earlier).

  1. Do you know where the numbers come from? Which numbers are facts and which are estimates? Who put the first number on the table?

  2. Do you see any evidence of the Halo effect? e.g. When we draw positive impressions of a person, company, situation based on other impressions

  3. Are you overly attached to past decisions?

Area 4: Risk Aversion

These questions help us avoid risk aversion, as well as the hindsight bias (when we perceive past events as more predictable than they actually were) and the optimism bias (when we believe that we're less likely to experience misfortune).

  1. Is the best case overly optimistic?

  2. Is the worst case bad enough?

  3. Are you being overly cautious?

Using these 12 questions to assess big decisions can help us check for bias. It's best used for bigger decisions that affect what we do routinely e.g. Whether they're life decisions, team decisions, project decisions. The more we actively build bias checks into our process, the better decisions we make.