How to make a good decision

Expert detectives have two main qualities:

  • Detached involvement
  • The ability to keep on asking questions

Good investigators don't make quick judgements. They know that their mind will try to convince them that their first impression is right. Instead, they force themselves to walk away from a problem they want to solve. This can help when making important life decisions where it would be dangerous to jump to conclusions, such as buying a new home, hiring a new employee or planning a career move.

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Problem Solving


Benefits of thinking like a detective

Clear thinking is essential for every aspect of life, yet many of us have not really learnt how to think and make safe judgments under pressure.

When you learn to think like a detective, you can gain an advantage in the following areas:

  • It can help you think sharper and more creative.
  • It can make you a better listener that is less judgmental.
  • It can help you solve everyday problems.

Use a systematic approach to eliminate as many explanations as possible through falsification.

  • Collect the available information.
  • Check the facts for accuracy and relevancy.
  • Connect the dots. Do different sources say the same?
  • Construct all possible solutions.
  • Consider what information you need the most to test your remaining hypothesis.
  • Consult with somebody you trust to help narrow the scope of your investigation.

The favoured approach is not deductive logic, which is reasoning based on known facts, but abductive logic, which identifies the best possible explanation in the absence of complete knowledge. Doctors make use of abductive reasoning. They are given a set of symptoms and diagnose on what would best explain most of the symptoms.

Always create a short outline of all the possible alternative explanations you can think of. Then plan how you will test your different reasons.

When constructing alternative options, you may find that you will gather more possibilities than you perhaps thought of in the beginning. To assist our minds, we need practical methods and information-handling tools to keep track. This will reduce the risk to jump to conclusions.

A mindmap or matrix can help to create transparency and allow for a second opinion of your ideas. With every bit of new information, mark on your matrix what the implications are for each hypothesis.

We will always forget something or not have all the facts. That's why an open-minded and critical friend can be indispensable.

Evidence and new perspectives can be found where you least expect them. It is essential to hold back your own opinion, ask open-ended questions, and use silence and active listening techniques.

  • Assume nothing
  • Believe nothing
  • Challenge and check everything

It is hard to resist our automatic assumptions and our need for closure. Therefore, always ask yourself what you do know and what you don't know. Remind yourself that correlation does not imply causation. To help find the truth, try to disprove your conclusions.

We tend to solve problems in superficial ways. When we make everyday decisions, our mind often only weighs the immediate information so that it can build a coherent story, even if the story is incomplete or unreliable.

  • WYSIATI, or "What you see is all there is" refers to the fact that we usually make our judgments according to the information we have available, even if the information is incomplete.
  • Confirmations bias compounds WYSIATI. We tend to find more evidence to support our current belief.

Whether you have to work out why a product launch failed, why your kid is struggling at school or why your smartphone has stopped working, it is essential to think more systematically.

But you won't always know everything and perhaps won't ever know. If you learn how to write down your understanding systematically, you'll increase the chance of finding a simple solution and avoid blunders. Practice can help to sharpen your inner detective and improve decision-making.

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Sherlock Holmes observed facts without being judgmental. He would construct a hypothesis about what he believed happened. He would then search for more evidence to logically validate his initial statements. The detective deconstructed what happened — piece by piece.



Think like Sherlock Holmes

“What Sherlock Holmes offers isn’t just a way of solving a crime. It is an entire way of thinking."

"Holmes provides... an education in improving our faculty of mindful thought and in using it in order to accomplish more, think better, and decide more optimally." - Ellen Langer

Holmes practices mindfulness

Mindfulness means focusing on only one problem or activity at a time.

Our brain cannot do two things at once. “What we believe is multi-tasking is really the brain switching quickly from one task to the next.” 

A study points out that those who are multi-taskers are less efficient.

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