How humans actually make decisions in complex, real-world settings is the study of naturalistic decision-making (NDM). Over the last several decades, NDM research has focused on answering questions regarding how we develop expertise and how we apply that expertise in order to make successful decisions in the real world. Application of NDM findings has met with positive results in a variety of fields including, but not limited to, fireground command, battle planning, critical-care nursing and event management.
What can NDM do for you?
The answer is simple. By understanding the factors that influence how you make decisions in real-world settings, instead of focusing on theoretically how you are suppose to make decisions in a sterile environment, you can gain a significant edge when dealing with real-world problems (see implications below). Whether making decisions that are personal or professional, NDM provides insights into a number of key factors impacting how you make decisions. These factors include;
If you can personally identify with working in an environment or making decisions under any of the above conditions on a regular basis, then most likely you will find the concepts behind NDM very useful and rewarding.
This is not to say that theoretical models that focus on optimizing the decision process do not have their place. Utilitarian or rational decision-making (RDM) models, whereby the optimal decision is determined through the use of a rational process of gathering information, forming multiple solutions, comparing options, implementing the option that will provide optimal results and formally evaluating those results does have value. Many useful training programs, decision support systems and self-help literature has been created using theoretical models of optimal decision-making. But, RDM does have certain limitations.
For example, a practice in the military developed around RDM principles was to train officers that when preparing a battle plan they should develop and compare three options and then implement the option they deemed superior. While this practice based on RDM models was well intentioned, NDM research has demonstrated that real-world factors such as time stress, missing data and continually changing conditions inherent in a combat environment make developing three options impractical and it was not how officers were actually deciding what actions to take in the field. And while most of us are not military officers operating on a battlefield, many of us still operate in dynamic, real environments that share similar features, most notably time stress.
Successful Decision Makers
How then are decision makers successful if they are not using the methods developed using RDM models? Based on the findings of NDM researchers across multiple studies, there does seem to be a natural process used by successful decision makers. What researchers found is that successful decision makers;
For organizations and group dynamics, NDM has a number of important implications, but it also has implications for you, the individual. To help use findings of NDM to better understand and improve decision making, consider;
Klein, G. (2008). Naturalistic decision making. Human Factors: The Journal of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, 50(3), 456-460.
Lipshitz, R., Klein, G., Orasanu, J., & Salas, E. (2001). Taking stock of naturalistic decision making. Journal of Behavioral Decision Making, 14(5), 331-352.
Montgomery, H., Lipshitz, R., & Brehmer, B. (2004). How Professionals Make Decisions (Expertise: Research and Applications Series) (0 ed.). CRC Press.
Zsambok, C. E., & Klein, G. (2014). Naturalistic Decision Making (Expertise: Research and Applications Series).
Richard Feenstra is an educational psychologist, with a focus on judgment and decision making.
Bobby Hoffman is the author of "Hack Your Motivation" and a professor of educational psychology at the University of Central Florida.