Problem Solving


Making Reversible Or Fixable Decisions Fast

You don't need to make the perfect decision all the time, and if you want to preserve your decision-making energy for the things that actually matter, then try to make decisions that are not critical (e. g. deciding what toothpaste and toilet paper to buy or which Airbnb to rent) as quickly as possible.

If they are reversible (easily undone - like being able to get a refund for something or being able to buy another cheap item) even if they seem like big decisions, making these decisions quickly is a habit worth cultivating, that will save you a lot of energy so that you are more perceptive for the decisions where the stakes are higher.



Problem Solving

This practice involves writing down the best and worst-case scenarios for different options. They are good for investing-related decisions but can be applied to many other instances: If you can cap the downside, and there is an asymmetrical upside, then you know at least your maximum losses.

These are more helpful and more actionable than pro-con lists (which can be just long lists of different things to compare and contrast).

A Whole Body Yes

When you're considering a decision, scan your head-> chest-> gut and look for a YES signal in all three areas; that is the only situation in which you should say yes.

To identify what a YES feels like, it's helpful to first look for NO signals: meaning, for any contractions in your head, chest, and gut.

This practice is helpful when you did all the objective analysis and they all say you should do something, but that conclusion feels off.

When you say that "your intuition told you to do X" but you haven't really done any risk-benefit analysis, it means you haven't really thought through the decision, you just want to do something and you use intuition as an excuse.

Intuition is most helpful when it is pointing in a different direction from your previous analysis.

The Semmelweis Reflex

We often want to stick with our current beliefs even when new knowledge seems to contradict them. This is known as the Semmelweis reflex - a dangerous phenomenon that has caused many deaths throughout history.

The theory is named after Ignaz Semmelweis

  • In 1846, Ignaz Semmelweis had a breakthrough when he discovered that when doctors washed their hands before treating patients and delivering babies, it resulted in a drop in maternal deaths from puerperal fever to 1%.
  • Despite his discovery, his teachings were rejected, he was sacked from the Vienna General Hospital. He became severely depressed and wrote open letters to obstetricians calling them irresponsible murderers.
  • He was eventually lured into an asylum and died at aged 47. Twenty years later, Louis Pasteur carried forward his work. The germ theory of disease is now widely accepted.

The Semmelweis reflex is a knee-jerk tendency to reject new evidence. It's a form of confirmation bias where we deny objective evidence, even if it could bring transformative improvement.

We can train ourselves to avoid the Semmelweis Reflex by not holding too hard to our beliefs and keeping an open mind when faced with new data.

  • Assess your dogmatic beliefs. It is any belief you hold unquestioningly.
  • Make room for genuine curiosity. Every time you have an automatic reaction against a new piece of information, allow space for honest exploration.
  • Critically accept or reject new findings. Taking into account that you may have biases, apply critical thinking to the new evidence.
The sequential (or analytic) learner

It is an analytic person likes to learn things step-by-step, or sequentially.

Knowing if you are a sequential learner can help you take advantage of the study recommendations.

  • Sequential learners are more likely to respond to a problem with logic, instead of emotion.
  • You may feel the need to understand each part of an algebra equation.
  • You may be good with time management.
  • You tend to remember names.
  • Your notes are categorized and labelled.
  • You plan ahead.


  • You may get hung up on details because you have to understand before you move on.
  • You get frustrated when people don't understand things as quickly as you do.
  • Ask for clear rules. Without rules, you might feel lost.
  • Don't worry about not finishing a task. Sometimes it is good to move on and re-visit a project later.
  • Don't worry if some things don't seem logical.
  • Group your information since you are good at categorising things.
  • Sit in front of the class to avoid getting distracted.
  • Don't worry about big concepts you don't grasp right away. You may need to know all the details first before you can put them together.
  • Take things step-by-step, but don't get hung up if you don't understand a specific step.
  • Ask for clear goals if you feel you need them.

Analytic learners like facts and like learning things in sequential steps.

Many of their preferred methods are used in traditional teaching. Teachers generally give tests that favour analytic learners, such as true and false or multiple choice exams.

Bad Decisions Are Not Accidental

Critical thinking, logic and reasoning are crucial elements of a decision, and sometimes get skipped due to our initial excitement coupled with intuition.

We fall into three basic traps of bad thinking, leading to wrong and often costly decisions: The Rosy Scenario Trap, The Wrong Ingredient Trap and The Binary Thinking Trap.

Any overly optimistic, idealistic or ‘positive vision’ decision can be a red flag of non-effectiveness.

Simply believing in a product does not guarantee high revenue. One has to get ‘nosy’ and not just ‘rosy’ in order to get towards reality.

While enjoying a ride in the sailboat of success, one can sometimes wrongly identify the ingredient that is responsible for the great outcome.

Misidentification or a wrong assumption of the key success ingredient is an easy mistake to make, and one has to do objective research to avoid major losses of a failure.

Decision-makers sometimes self-limit the available choices, making them fall into two extreme, oversimplified alternatives. The reason for this is the desire to be action-oriented and efficient.

Leaders need to understand that probability of the choices being simply 0 or 1 is rare, and there have to be more alternatives if they do the required critical thinking, which would lead to effective outcomes.

An analogy is a comparison that asserts a parallel between two distinct things, based on the perception of a shared property.

Analogies appear in metaphors, similes, political slogans, legal arguments, marketing taglines, mathematical formulas, biblical parables, logos, TV ads, euphemisms, proverbs, fables, and sports clichés.

An analogy is a tool

Analogies are arguments that operate unnoticed. Like icebergs, they conceal most of their mass and power beneath the surface.

Analogies are also used in innovation and decision making. For instance, the "bicycle for the mind” that Steve Jobs envisioned as a Macintosh computer.

Using analogies help us to communicate effectively. For example, Warren Buffett noted "You never know who’s swimming naked until the tide goes out,” meaning when times are bad, hidden weaknesses are exposed.

Lack of awareness of an analogy's influence can come at a cost. The ability to construct a good analogy can help you reach your outcomes.

Analogies frame situations

Effective, persuasive analogies frame situations and arguments.

Like picture frames, conceptual frames include ideas, images and emotions and exclude others. It can be used for better or worse, and influence the direction of the thinking of all parties.

When we deconstruct analogies, we find out why they function so effectively.

Analogies meet five criteria:

  • Use the highly familiar to explain something less familiar.
  • Highlight similarities and obscure differences.
  • Identify useful abstractions.
  • Tell a coherent story. The narrative need not be accurate. It is the feeling and ideas the analogy evokes that makes it powerful.
  • Resonate emotionally.

A good analogy serves as an intellectual springboard that helps us jump to conclusions. It is efficient if the findings are likely to be correct, and can save time and effort.

However, if the analogy is misleading, we are likely not to notice. Assumptions reinforce our preconceptions and preferences, known as confirmation bias. All statements should be considered and evaluated, even if they confirm the beliefs we currently hold.

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