Friday, April 29, 2022

Trust, advices and decision-making

Disclaimer: this post is based on personal (i.e. not scientific) observations.

In one of my recent meetings, there was an example of people seeking help from dating services and the advices given to them, as follows:

You say that your first impressions are not good. You show up here  at the dating service office  in tee shirt and short pants and you say that you go on your first dates wearing similar clothes. To improve your first impression, you should try dressing up a little.

To someone who is clueless about fashion, this stuck with me for a few days after the meeting. While walking my dog and thinking about the advice above, I reached the conclusion that if I were the one receiving it, I would have given up on match making.

Why? Because I'm clueless about fashion. If you tell me to go to a specific hair dresser, have a specific hair cut, buy a specific shirt at a specific shop then I can do all that, but if you just tell me "dress up" then I'm totally lost, overwhelmed by the infinity of options to choose from.

Another thing to consider is my capability — or lack thereof — to learn about fashion. You could say that it's not that I'm incapable but only unwilling to learn it. Regardless of which statement is correct, the end result is all the same: I am not capable of making fashionable decisions. And all of us have this set of topics that we feel at a loss, be it sports, math, finance, relationships, etc.

Other topics, however, are very interesting or easy to learn even if we don't know about them. Those topics we can dive deep and enjoy the process until we reach a decision that best fit our needs and preferences. I like web technologies and I enjoy the process of searching for a new web framework to learn for my next projects, even if they introduce new languages or concepts: I do want to make that decision myself!

Finally, there are topics we can make instant decisions about, without a flinch. It could be something we're deeply knowledgeable about, experienced, or even just careless. For this kind of topics, we may just want an overview of the options, maybe some hints and directions, but we don't want to be showered with detailed advices because, well, we know what we want.

So there are two variables here: the Decision-Making Capability (which includes the will or lack thereof to learn) and the Advice Granularity (the level of detail of the advice). Plotting a chart, it becomes something like this:

While explaining to my peers about my need for specific advices, I gave another example. I cannot cook. More precisely, I can only cook with specific instructions. "Salt to taste" "mix until it turns brown" are examples of unclear instructions, whereas "1 teaspoon of salt" and "mix for 5 minutes" are clear instructions. With a few exceptions, recipes have unclear instructions that confuse me and many many many mistakes were made. Only when my wife instructed me to "cut ingredient A in size B, add C tsp of spice D after adding E" and so on that I could lear how to cook (only this dish). For dinner tonight, she vaguely asked me to make salad and well, I did make it, but it turned into a mountain of mixed vegetables because I need specific amount instructions.

Then a colleague asked me how could I blindly trust those specific advices. I thought about it for a moment, and realized that it's not always easy to trust just because it's something I don't know about. If it's an important decision such as investing my family's entire fortune on something, I would absolutely not trust the people giving me advices so casually.

So, again, two variables here: the Trust Level (on the advisor or the advices given to me) and the Importance Level (of the decision that I am expected to make). Plotting a chart, it becomes something like this:

Thank you for reading! Feedback is welcome.

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