Split Second Decision Making

Sometimes Split Second Decision Making is required. All of your knowledge, education, experience, reasoning, intuition, common sense and confidence must come together extremely rapidly.

The journalist Malcolm Gladwell calls this fast decision making “thin slicing” in his book: “Blink.”

Thin slicing is the ability to focus on a small set of key variables to make a quick decision rather than consciously considering every possible variable. #1

Many decisions are time dependent. Weighing the amount of information needed before making a decision, against the time available is a challenge.

Examples of when extremely fast decision making is needed include: combat, avoiding a car accident, or anything requiring an immediate decision. Another common name for split second decision making is “thinking on your feet.”

A classic example of using split second decision making on multiple occasions was during the US space program.

Gene Kranz (a flight controller on the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo space missions) writes about the need for quick accurate decisions in his book: “Failure is not an Option.”

Endless intensive simulations were run with the controllers, flight crew and others before every launch. Everyone’s skills had to be “razor sharp” during the actual missions. Decisions had to be accurate and made in “real time.” There was little, and sometimes no room for error. Lives were at stake. Risk was part of their business.

For example, during the Apollo 13 crisis an explosion on the command module caused damage threatening the lives of the crew members. Members of mission control used differential diagnosis to determine the root cause of the problem. They had to quickly think through and brainstorm options, alternatives, risks and uncertainties.

Then, working with the crew, in a few hours they put together a set of procedures that that normally would take weeks. Exceptional knowledge, experience, reasoning, training, intuition, common sense, confidence and quickness were all necessary to make this possible.#2

Gene Kranz sums up how he gained his skills to be a top flight controller when he said:

“The flight director’s ultimate training comes at the console, working real problems, facing the risks, making irrevocable decisions.”

Split second decision making is another good reason to hone your critical thinking skills. Although you may not be faced with instant life and death decisions, you will (on occasions) have to make quick decisions.

The better your skills and critical thinking are, coupled with training and quickness, the more prepared you will be to make sound decisions in the “blink of an eye!”

1 Gladwell, Malcolm. Blink—The Power of Thinking Without Thinking (Little Brown and Company, New York, NY, 2005).

2 Kranz, Gene. Failure is not an Option (Simon and Schuster, New York, NY, 2000).

Split Second Decision Making

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