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We all make mistakes, sometimes obvious ones. Why do smart people (like you and me) make bad decisions? 

There are proven reasons why we mess up. Below are a few that I discovered doing research for a presentation I recently gave.


Emotion clouds judgement, causing us to make errors. It also makes us freeze, delaying action and making things worse. My friend, Bruce, once gave me sage advice, “A problem is a set of facts compounded by emotion.” 

TAKEAWAY: Extract the emotion, analyze the facts, and make a decision now… even if that decision is to delay the final decision.   


Quantity of data influences our decisions because we intuitively presume more is better. Sometimes that’s true. Sometimes not. Judging from the quantity of election ads we’ll see next year, politicians will try to leverage our more information is better information bias. 

TAKEAWAY: Don’t presume quantity of information is quality of information. 


Information acquired recently influences our decisions more than information acquired long ago. We are biased to assume that what we learn today is more accurate than what we learned yesterday. Often it’s not.

TAKEAWAY: Don’t presume recent advice is decent advice.   


Even when not asked, friends volunteer advice (and knowledge) because they want to be helpful. Because people care doesn’t mean they know, or that their advice is right for you. 

TAKEAWAY: Don’t presume a trusted friend is a knowledgeable friend. 


I have a friend who won’t engage in meaningful relationships because her first husband was a loser. That’s like a child who won’t get back on her bike because she fell and scraped her knee.  

TAKEAWAY: Don’t make broad decisions based on narrow experiences. 


Failure to do our homework is the most obvious reason why we make bad decisions. I believe diligence should be in proportion to the importance of a decision. Deciding on lunch shouldn’t require the same degree of research and thought as choosing someone to care for your child. 

TAKEAWAY: Do homework in proportion to importance. 

Next week I’ll share my 13th annual “Talkin Turkey” Thanksgiving blog. Until then, if you live in Arizona, you might enjoy listening to my KTAR “Get Smart Tips” airing every weekday at 7:09am on 92.3FM.

“A smart man makes a mistake, learns from it, and never makes that mistake again. But a wise man finds a smart man and learns from him how to avoid the mistake altogether.”
– Roy Williams

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