According to experts in an emerging field called the Science of Choice, everyone can learn to make higher quality decisions. In fact, smart people make dumb decisions with alarming regularity.

First, understand the primary cause of poor individual decisions—overconfidence. Then realize that one of the reasons groups make higher quality decisions than the smartest person in the group is the ability to force participants to think outside of their normal comfort zone.

Natural decision making for individuals relies on an “inside view”. Not surprisingly, we call our meeting participants “subject matter experts” because their inside view is also known as the subjective view. For example, two people eating from the same bowl of chili may arrive at different conclusions. One may find the chili excessively ‘hot” (as in spicy) and the other, not. Both are correct from their subjective points of view, so how do we as facilitators “objectify” their assessment?

Participants, especially when focused on specific situations, tend to use information that is cheap; ie, costs little in terms of time to access and out of pocket costs. They make their judgments and predictions based on a narrow set of inputs. Perhaps, for example, there was only one habanero pepper in the chili, and it ended up in only one of the bowls. Participants do not consider the full range of possibilities. Frequently in planning modes, people paint a “too optimistic” view of the future, largely due to overconfidence.

Overconfidence is central to the inside view and leads to at least two illusions that can dramatically lower the quality of decisions:

Smart People Make Dumb Decisions

Sometimes Smart People Make Dumb Decisions

  1. Illusion of Control
  2. Illusion of Superiority

1. Illusion of Control

People behave as if chance events are subject to their influence. Simply stated, people who believe that they have some control over the situation perceive their “odds of success” are higher, even when they are not. Numerous studies have proven the illusion of control, typically using random chance, such as the throw of the dice. Money managers, for example, behave as if they can beat the market when, in fact, very few outperform the major indices.

2. Illusion of Superiority

Most people consider themselves ‘above average’ drivers. Likewise, most professionals place themselves in the top half of performers. Clearly, these judgments are absurd, as at least half of all drivers would be considered ‘below average.’ Likewise for professionals, as people maintain an unrealistically positive view of themselves, not everyone can be above average. In fact, according to one large study, more than 80 percent of those surveyed considered themselves above average. Remarkably, and scary too, the least-capable people often have the largest gaps between their perception and reality. Those in the bottom quartile of various studies dramatically overstate their abilities, and nearly everyone tends to dismiss their shortcomings as inconsequential.

What is the Solution?

Various researchers have discovered that building consensus provides the best way to overcome individual biases. When building consensus, an outside view is brought into the decision-making process that improves the quality of individual decisions. Here is a methodological approach for facilitators:

  1. Find a Surrogate (Diverge):

    Ask the group to identify similar situations, comparable industries, significant competitors, or even stir up the group by adding participants with competing points of view.

  2. Assess the Distribution of Potential Outcomes (Analyze):

    Treat the decision as conditional rather than fixed. Under what conditions might Decision A be more appropriate than Decision B, etc?

  3. Base decisions, especially predictions, on ranges of outcomes and probabilities, and not a fixed set. (Converge):

    Consider scenario planning and build at least three decisions; perhaps the sunny, cloudy, and stormy perspectives. Study the outcomes including the most common, the average, and check the extremes to help influence a group to consider an ‘outside view.’

  4. Calibrate the decision or prediction as necessary (Document):

    Remember the biases discussed earlier, as it remains likely that the justification of views may remain too optimistic and overconfident. Interesting research within the National Football League (NFL) about counter-intuitive decisions such as going for it on fourth down, two point conversions, onside kicks and the like shows that coaches who are willing to break from tradition are more successful by generating more points and victories than those who play it safe.


Finally, MG RUSH  professional facilitation curriculum focuses on providing methodology. Each student thoroughly practices methodology and tools before class concludes. Additionally, some call this immersion. However, we call it the road to building impactful facilitation skills.

Become Part of the Solution While You Improve Your Facilitation, Leadership, and Methodology Skills

Take a class or forward this to someone who should. MG RUSH Professional Facilitation Training provides an excellent way to earn up to 40 SEUs from the Scrum Alliance, 40 PDUs from PMI, 40 CDUs from IIBA, and 3.2 CEUs. As a member of the International Association of Facilitators (IAF), our Professional Facilitation. Therefore, our training aligns with IAF Certification Principles and fully prepares alumni for their Certified Professional Facilitator designation.

Furthermore, our Professional Facilitation curriculum immerses students in the responsibilities and dynamics of an effective facilitator and methodologist. Because nobody is smarter than everybody, attend an MG RUSH  Professional Facilitation, Leadership, and Methodology workshop offered around the world, see MG RUSH  for a current schedule.

Go to the Facilitation Training Store to access our in-house resources. You will discover numerous annotated agendas, break timers, and templates. Finally, take a few seconds to buy us a cup of coffee and please SHARE.

In conclusion, we dare you to embrace the will, wisdom, and activities that amplify a facilitative leader.

Facilitation Expert

Terrence Metz, CSM, PSPO, CSPF, is the Managing Director of MG RUSH Facilitation Training and Coaching, the acknowledged leader in structured facilitation training. His FAST Monthly Facilitation blog features over 300 articles on facilitation skills and tools aimed at helping others lead faster, more productive meetings and workshops that yield higher quality decisions. His clients include Agilists, Scrum teams, program and project managers, senior officers, and the business analyst community among numerous private and public companies and global corporations. As an undergraduate of Northwestern University (Evanston, IL) and MBA graduate from NWU’s Kellogg School of Management, his professional experience has focused on process improvement and product development. He continually aspires to make it easier for others to succeed.

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