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HBR: The Pros and Cons of Pros-and-Cons Lists

The Pros and Cons of Pros-and-Cons Lists

“The Pros

Rigor. Making the effort to think through all possible pros and cons of a given course of action, and then capturing them in writing, minimizes the likelihood that critical factors have been missed. Assigning weights to each of the pros and cons is an additional exercise that promotes deeper thinking and presumably leads to better-quality decision making.

Emotional distance. Important decisions are likely to evoke powerful emotions. Going through the steps of creating a pros-and-cons list can create what researchers Ozlem Ayduk and Ethan Kross refer to as a “self-distanced perspective,” in which the decision is viewed as an “external” problem to be addressed, easing the impact of the emotions surrounding the decision. Deferring the decision pending the pro-con analysis also provides a gap in time in which powerful emotions can dissipate, reducing the risk of an “amygdala hijack,” the cognitive phenomenon popularized by Daniel Goleman’s emotional intelligence writings, in which perceived emotional threats can lead to extreme actions, often with undesirable outcomes.

Familiarity and simplicity. Perhaps most compelling of all, the pros-and-cons list is generally well understood, requires no special computational or analytical expertise, and is elegantly simple to administer.

The Cons

Vulnerable to cognitive biases. Cognitive biases are common patterns of thinking that have been demonstrated to lead to errors in judgment and poor decision making. Unfortunately, the same simplicity that makes a pros-and-cons list so appealing creates many opportunities for a host of cognitive biases to emerge, including:

  • Framing effect. Pros-and-cons lists generally are about evaluating two alternatives: a “thumbs up or thumbs down” scenario and an example of “narrow framing,” a bias created by overly constraining the set of possible outcomes.
  • Overconfidence effect. A well-established cognitive bias is the tendency of individuals to overestimate the reliability of their judgments. When creating a pros-and-cons lists, it is likely that many people assume a level of accuracy in their assessment of pros and cons that simply isn’t there.
  • Illusion of control. When faced with the task of envisioning possible outcomes, a common bias is to believe that one can control outcomes that in reality are not controllable.

Reliance on analytical thinking.

The Verdict . . .”


Posted on: January 21, 2017, 6:15 am Category: Uncategorized

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