I recently got back from a motorcycle rally across the Sahara.
There were 26 teams in the rally, and each one had a different plan. They ranged from extraordinarily detailed (my, admittedly older, group) to “Head west and hope for the best” (the younger folks).
I found it interesting that while everyone was competing in the same race, there were multiple realities being used to plan the event. For example, there was one spot on the trip where we found ourselves facing a river that was overflowing onto the road and the connected bridge. We had to cross this bridge to continue, but the river made it tricky.
To some, this was a sign of worse things to come and a reason to turn back. To others, it was just another obstacle to cross. No big deal. Even within our own group, we had divisions between the more adventurous and more conservative planners.
I’ve been thinking about this since I got back—and have come to a conclusion about planning and making decisions in high-stakes situations:
Even when everyone has the same goal, the focus and plans can be quite different
By the second day of the rally, we were already a little behind schedule due to the fact that we simply weren’t traveling as fast as we’d planned.
Everyone had different ideas about why we were going slower than anticipated and what could be done about it. That evening, half of our group decided to push on—to reach the next town before nightfall—while the other half decided to stay at the town we were in.
The group who went ahead was focused on the plan. They were thinking about how to get back on track and meet the deadlines we’d set earlier.
The group that stayed behind (my group) was focused on trying to understand the situation and how to react to it. Yet even within that unit, there was controversy. People had different assumptions about what was happening. Some were thinking about quitting, others were considering pushing on with the other group.
Later that night, my group got a call from the people who had moved on. One of our friends had fallen and hit his head, and it was possible that he was badly hurt. Later, we learned that he was okay, but his motorcycle was broken—which meant that group ended up even farther behind waiting to get it fixed.
The same situation, two very different outcomes. So, if you’re trying to achieve the best possible end result, how can you decide between the many different perspectives within a group?
When you’re trying to make a decision, there’s no way to be completely objective
We all love being right.
The truth is, our decisions are filled with distortions and biases. It’s a difficult concept to internalize, but there’s no reason to believe your decisions are less biased than anyone else’s.
However, don’t automatically assume that just because something is biased that it’s wrong. Bias is a distortion—often a lens that you use to make sense of the world.
Take the investment world, for instance. Warren Buffett and George Soros are two of the best-known investors, but they have very different ways of looking at the world. Buffett is very focused on the margin of safety. He looks at how much downside protection he has, how many real assets are there, and things of that nature.
Soros is very focused on the macroeconomic situation and gross economic assumptions. He’s not nearly as concerned with the balance sheet and hard assets in the way Buffett is.
Neither one is wrong. They’re both very good at what they do, but they have their own conclusions. It’s the same world and same reality—but a different perspective.
To understand how to make a decision, you have to triangulate the different views
You can use a change in perspective to your advantage. When you’re looking at a situation, it pays to think of how someone who’s different from you would assess the issue.
It could be a friend you know well but who isn’t there at the time. It could be a coworker or a sibling. It could even be a historical figure whose biography you’ve just read. No matter who you consult, all these examples are a form of reference class forecasting.
There is quite a bit of research on this topic. Evan Polman, an assistant professor of medicine at Wisconsin School of Business, has published extensively on the topic, including his research published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, Information Distortion in self-other decision making. One of the techniques he describes for improved decision making is to visualize your decision as someone else’s. This allows you to gain some perspective—to see the forest for the trees, in a sense.
A different perspective can help balance your decision-making and allow you to see the situation through multiple lenses. The challenge then is to triangulate on the perspectives, understand the underlying reality, and change what you believe based on what’s happening, rather than what you want to happen.
The difficult part, obviously, is not over-weighing your own perspective on the situation. It’s tough to treat every viewpoint as equally valid as your own, but it can be done. And if you can accomplish that feat, you can be confident that your high-stakes decision is at least a well-considered one.
This article was originally published on Quora.