Cultivate What You Know To Make Better Decisions, Faster

Making quick decisions is tough. With the internet at your fingertips it's easy to let research get in the way, and spend hours obsessively researching the best choice. Scientific American suggests we all take a page from Sherlock Holmes' book for a means to make better decisions, faster.

The idea is based on Sir Arthor Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes story "A Study in Scarlet" in which Holmes says:

"I consider that a man's brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things, so that he has difficulty laying his hands upon it. Now the skillful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic.

He will have nothing but the tools which may help him in doing his work, but of these he has a large assortment, and all in the most perfect order. It is a mistake to think that that little room has elastic walls and can distend to any extent. Depend upon it and there comes a time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones."

Holmes' point is that we fill our brains with useless knowledge, and that affects not only our decision process, but also our memory. When we make a decision, we have to remove the distractions -- the details that don't matter for the decision itself -- in order to make a choice quickly. Scientific American explains it like so:

In a decision, it is crucial to ignore so-called distracters, things that are actually irrelevant but that can influence our judgment if we are not careful. These come in many guises: emotions, for one, and personal impressions (which, while sometimes useful, are often completely beside the point); or, additional information that should make no difference but that actually does impact our decision.

The point is that your mind is filled with useless knowledge, and so is the internet. When you're making a choice, clean out your "mind attic" and tune your brain to only the facts that matter for the decision itself, not the extraneous information that has nothing to do with it. This goes for everything from choosing a restaurant for a Friday night dinner to picking out a new computer to buy. You don't need to remember every detail, so don't bother trying.

Lessons from Sherlock Holmes: Cultivate What You Know to optimise How You Decide [Scientific American]


    Sounds like he was warning against RSS feeds.

    I had a similar revelation when I went back to uni a few years ago as a mature age student. I felt like I had so many great things to say about topics on which I now had real life experience. So I did. And got terrible marks!
    Then I started just paying attention to the question, and honing in on specific aspects of that question, and my marks improved...

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