Yet more information is not always what you need

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I’ve been thinking lately about the effects of transparency and information on decision making. After observing situations like:

  • Teams flooded with report requests
  • Costly measurements requests, but without explanation of why they are requested
  • Holding back decisions in wait for complete information (even though just enough information seems to be present)

I’ve have wondered if more information can actually delay your decision making and what is really required to make correct decisions.

In short: More options can actually impair your decision making (more likely for inexperienced people). Experienced people are more likely to make the right decisions even in situations with incomplete information.

First let’s introduce Hick’s law:

T =b log Log2 ( n + 1)

With it’s origin in information theory, Hicks law states that our decision time (T) is a logarithmic function of the options (n). The reason it is log2 is because we generally perform a binary eliminations of options. The +1 because we first think about if we need to make a decision or not ūüôā
This means that your decision time is likely to rise (but not linearly) with the number of options available. For a deep dive I recommend Wikipedia’s article (see below).

So how well do we do under time pressure and with incomplete information?

The Israeli Air Force has studied commanders decision making during combat training. In simulated situations, the commanders are asked to utilize defensive resources to counter enemy attacks. A number of decision variables were studied. Incomplete vs. complete information, effects of time pressure and level of professionalism (Top ranked commanders vs. field commanders).

They found that complete information did improve decision making, but not in presence of time pressure. The degeneration happened for field commanders, as opposed to Top ranking commanders. Top ranking commanders also made fewer changes to earlier decisions. This seem to indicate they will make the right calls faster, even in presence of incomplete information.

Rule seems to be, build experience ūüôā

Sources:

  1. Wikipedia – Hick’s Law
  2. The effects of Time-Pressure and completeness of information in decision making (Ahituv, Igbaria Sella, 1998)

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