For Parts 1 and 2 of this series, read here and here.

Step 5. Planning for Godly Decision Making: Organizing and Processing

Once you have sought counsel and/or brainstormed all the available issues, options, and considerations, now it’s time to plan and organize. Jesus alludes to the self-evident nature of project planning:

For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. (Luke 14:28-32)

There are several helpful models that you can use when organizing the various options, data, and perspectives:[1]

Single Feature Model. For simple decisions, such as buying shampoo, we generally decide based on a single feature, which, in this case, is most likely price. For shampoo, I could care less about its advertised features, whether it gives my hair more bounce or shine; all I care about is finding the cheapest one.

Additive Feature Model. This method involves quantifying the various features of each option, tallying the results, and then picking the option with the highest evaluation score. So I have a purchase choice between two used cars, and I’m not sure which one to choose. What I can do is list out the various features of each car, then on a scale from -5 to +5 I can evaluate each feature. So the cheaper car might get a +5 for its price, but its cumulative mileage is a -2 and customer reviews earn it a -3. When I tally up both cars, the one with the highest number is the best buy.

Elimination by Aspects Model. This form of evaluation can be seen as a process of elimination by virtue of a hierarchy of important attributes. So if we were looking for a flat-screen TV, we might begin with a budget limit. We begin here because we’ve determined that our finances are of the highest priority in making this decision. This of course automatically discounts a whole host of televisions. Then, among the ones that are available given our budget, we might decide that screen size is the second most important criterion. Again, options are eliminated. Then, we might consider customer review ratings as the next most important criterion, and so on. We’ve found our flat-screen TV!

Moreover, you can combine the Elimination of Aspects and Additive Feature models. For example, perhaps you are trying to figure out which college to attend. You can begin with an Elimination by Aspects model: I want first and foremost to go to a Christian college; secondly, I want to go to a college that is within 100 miles of my family; thirdly, the college must be academically rigorous. With the Elimination by Aspects model, I have whittled down the list to about five colleges. Now, with the Additive Feature Model, I can evaluate the remaining five colleges in terms of the advantages/disadvantages with sports programs, student-to-professor ratio, etc.

Of course, not all decisions involve picking out a television or buying shampoo. There are decisions that we have to make that involve uncertainty and risk. Investing money, for example, is not merely a decision based on additives and aspects; it also involves the possibility that I might not get my money back. How do we make decisions when they involve uncertainties and risk?

For relatively quick decisions, there is what is called the Availability Rule, which involves evaluating the risk of a situation based on various examples that come to mind. I’m a teacher, and I have students that are at risk of failing any one of my courses. When I hear them tell me that they plan to do better, ace their exams, and turn in all their assignments, I naturally recall all the past times I have heard others student in similar situations say the same things but with little or no change in the results. I therefore evaluate the present student’s risk of failing based on comparable examples in the past. The same might go for an investment. Our friend might think that this time he’s really going to make money on the stock market, but we can predict the improbability of success in light of his past failures; if such a profit is going to be achieved, it is going to have involve some variable that his previous attempts omitted.

If you have time for a more evaluative approach, economic theory tends towards approaching risk and uncertainty by determining the probability of occurrence and expected payoffs. At a basic level, probability is determined by dividing an event by the number of outcomes. For example, what is the likelihood of rolling a two on a six-sided die? We represent the single event (rolling the two) by the number 1, and then divide 1 by the number of possible outcomes, 6, which comes out to 16.67 or about a 17% probability.[2] Once probability is determined, then payoff can be calculated. For example, suppose someone offers me a chance to roll a die and get paid the number of dollars shown on the die, but the chance to roll will cost me $3. Is this deal worth it? If I have a 1/6 chance of rolling (and therefore being paid) any one of the six numbers, I can add up the fractions together and determine the average payoff, which turns out to be $3.50. And so the payoff is greater than the $3 price, and I accept the proposal.

Finally, risk usually justifies some kind of diversification. You know the old adage: “Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket.” Diversification of economic activity seems to be a key strategy to manage risk. The basic idea here is that engaging in several activities enables people to fall back on something in case problems arise with their sources of income and subsistence.[3]

Step 6. The Practice of Godly Decision Making: Taking Action

Finally, having sorted and organized the various options according to one of the above models, you can identify the next action or actions to take. Having decided on a restaurant, you need to call and make reservations; having decided on a flat-screen TV, you now need to click to order or plan a time to visit the store; having decided on an investment, you will have to call your mutual funds manager. The simple question to ask at this point is: What’s the next action I need to take? If there are several actions needed, don’t let the complexity of a project overwhelm you. It’s important to remember that we don’t actually do projects; we do individual actions, one after the other, and the sum total of those actions is the project itself.

When it comes to day-to-day interactions, the vast majority of your decision making will involve only Steps 5 and 6, usually a Single Feature decision followed up by a determined action. But for those decisions that require attentive evaluation and deliberation, these Six Steps are extremely helpful.

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I certainly hope that you are blessed by these steps in your decision making. As with all that we do, make sure to wrap each one of these steps in prayer and thanksgiving. Here is a beautiful ancient petition for sanctifying your decision making:

Almighty God, our Help and Refuge, Fountain of wisdom and Tower of strength, who knowest that I can do nothing without thy guidance and help; assist me, I pray thee, and direct me to divine wisdom and power, that I may accomplish this task, and whatever I may undertake to do, faithfully and diligently, according to thy will, so that it may be profitable to myself and others, and to the glory of thy Holy Name. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit: now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.

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Or perhaps you are thinking about next year’s school options for your children. If so, make sure to read Classical vs. Modern Education: A Vision from C.S. Lewis, available here.

[1] I borrow these models from http://psychology.about.com/od/problemsolving/a/decision-making-Strategies.htm.

[2] For a basic tutorial on determining probability, see http://www.wikihow.com/Calculate-Probability.

[3] Michael Chibnik, Anthropology, Economics, and Choice (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2011), 71, 74.

Featured image credit: © 2010 elitatt, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio