Dilemma : Sleeping over a Problem vs. Deciding in a Blink

Barack Obama had chosen to sleep on his decision to authorize the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. This, according to Maarten Bos and Amy Cuddy, is exactly what scientific research would prescribe when facing a complex decision. In Harvard Business Review Article titled “A Counter-Intuitive Approach to Making Complex Decisions” they point out that there is clear research evidence to support Obama’s decision to sleep over the problem and it is the right course of action for anyone facing a challenging quandary. They have also outlines a 3 step process for such decision making – (1) Take in all information, (2) Sleep on it, and (3) Check the facts.

However, many of the readers commented that this seems to be the opposite conclusion of the book “Blink: The Power of Thinking without Thinking” by Malcolm Gladwell. Quoting Maarten W Bos from one of the comments …

“…experts can often recognize patterns within their area of expertise very fast, and therefore have a lot of subconscious processing before they make a decision…”

So, the debate goes on – should you sleep over a problem or deciding in a blink?

What do the two methods of decision making have in common?

Do you see the commonality?

In both cases we don’t understand what our brain does in the intervening period. In the first case, the subconscious processing happens over a period when we are sleeping. In the second case, subconscious processing happens in a millisecond.

In either case there are no logical steps in arriving at the solution – we just know what the right solution is. Will such a decision made by our subconscious always be a better decision?

So, the debate should be about…

  • …always use logical thinking
  • …always take advantage of or subconscious brain
  • …judicious mix or the two

In theory, the third option looks the best but how to know what is the right mix? When should stop analysis and logical thinking and hand over to your subconscious?

Author : Udayan Banerjee

Udayan is an IT industry veteran having started his career in 1977. He is currently Vice-President at NIIT Technologies Limited and is a avid blogger. Check out his linkedin profile and his blog.

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