This is a follow up to last week’s post about people in positions of power whose decisions are flawed because of that powerful position.
every President relishes his image as a decision maker. In the current
election, there’s also much talk about temperament, with both major
candidates claiming how good they are at making judgments and decisions.
there’s little discussion about whether – out of ego, ambition, policy
concerns or whatever – they end up trying to make too many decisions.
Huh? Isn’t that what the job is all about?
That’s what you would
believe if you listened to candidates and President. It’s almost as if
they are like baseball players toting up how many hits they’ve had this
season – why I made 1,000 important decisions last year!
Many academics also focus on Presidential decision-making. Here’s a statement for students:
you imagine being the president of the United States? Think about all
the important decisions that must be made. A president must exercise
wise decision-making skills. Decision making is simply the thought
process of selecting a logical choice from the available options. For
the president, the available options must seem endless!”
John Dean, famously, formerly on the staff of President Nixon, writing just a few years ago about President Obama, stated:
is more important in the American presidency than decision-making. It
is, in fact, the very essence of the job. Presidential decisions can
and do shape our history, for better or worse. Rarely, though, does the
decision-making style of presidential candidates receive much attention
during a campaign.”
Well, on top of the flaws in each individual decision, things only get worse when someone is making too many decisions.
When I originally wrote about this in 2011, one of the most popular articles on the New York Times website was John Tierney’s “Do You Suffer From Decision Fatigue?”. (It’s still one of the top hits when you search the subject.)
pointed out how the quality of decisions declines as too many are made,
in part because the decision makers have not conserved their willpower
for the tough decisions. He cited a now frequently cited study of
“[A]s researchers discovered by analyzing more
than 1,100 decisions over the course of a year, Judges, who would hear
the prisoners’ appeals and then get advice from the other members of the
board, approved parole in about a third of the cases, but the
probability of being paroled fluctuated wildly throughout the day.
Prisoners who appeared early in the morning received parole about 70
percent of the time, while those who appeared late in the day were
paroled less than 10 percent of the time.”
This pattern is a reflection of decision fatigue,
trying to make too many decisions. It is tied to the general limit on
each person’s ability to sustain will power (and, for that matter,
rationality) over the more natural emotional instincts as the day goes
The American Psychological Association has a website
devoted to will-power – the ability to make decisions that are based on
long-term, rational goals rather than immediate gratification. While
elaborating on the various ways that having stronger will-power leads to
lives that are more successful, they also note the numerous studies
that show it is a limited resource which can be depleted after a series
of difficult decisions.
You can find all sorts of self-help
articles about how to boost your will power, including eating more to
overcome low glucose periods of the day. FastCompany magazine even credited President Obama with reducing his decision fatigue by wearing the same suit every day.
the best efforts of even President Obama, the demands on public
officials – Presidents/governors/mayors, even legislative bodies – to
make all kinds of decisions explains a lot of some of the otherwise
inexplicable decisions we’ve observed.
Are they too suffering from
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