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Comparing Decision Making Models: 3 ways to skin a catfish

By Lyndsay Swinton

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How do I make a decision?
How do I make a decision?

Comparing decision making models, you can see there are many ways to reach a conclusion or "skin a catfish". The decision making models have been grouped into 3 types; rational, intuitive and Gary Klein's recognition primed decision making model, which is a hybrid of the rational and intuitive models. This article gives you the pros and cons of each decision making model.

How to skin a catfish - the rational approach...

A rational decision making model usually includes the following steps:

  • Identify the problem or opportunity
  • Gather and organize information
  • Analyze the situation
  • Develop several options
  • Evaluate and assign a value to each option
  • Select the option which emerges as the best
  • Act decisively on that option

The pros of a rational decision making model include being able to set emotion aside, and approach a decision with structure and discipline. The con is that humans are not always rational, and the 'best option' may not always be the 'right' one when you factor in other people associated with the decision or ethical issues.

Rational decision making can be effective when time allows for the considered, deductive reasoning, but it can lead to "analysis paralysis". Sometimes it is best to ignore your head and trust your gut.


How to skin another catfish - the intuitive approach...

An intuitive decision making model is much less structured and favours subjective rather than objective judgement. It depends on the following types of input:

  • Pattern recognition - seeing patterns in events and information, and using them to configure a course of action.
  • Similarity Recognition - seeing similarities in situations past and present, such as recognized cause and effect in a given situation.
  • Salience - understanding the importance of information and the way it affects personal judgment.

The pros of an intuitive decision making model are that decisions can be made quickly and that the decision maker leans on their personal experience and judgment. The con is that emotion, bad or too little experience may cloud judgment and cause a poor or 'impulse' decision to be made.

For example, most people would safely use intuitive decision making when choosing a restaurant for a special occasion or choosing a holiday book to read.

Intuitive reasoning is not the full story, especially in "do or die" situations where there is no time to "process" your decision making criteria, or when you've got a gut bug.

This has led to decision models being developed that include both rational and intuitive factors.


How to skin catfish number 3 - Gary Klein's recognition primed decision making model...

The Gary Klein recognition primed decision making model is a good example of a combination of intuitive and rational reasoning:

Life or death decisions
Life or death decisions

In this model, the decision maker assesses the situation quickly, compares it to past situations, recognizes patterns and creates a mental 'action script' that runs through the scenario to conclusion. This model is practically demonstrated every day by people involved in "life or death"; scenarios such as airline pilots, emergency response teams or war veterans.

This can lead to two options:

  • The decision maker finds no flaw in their scenario and sets about their chosen course of action according to their script
  • The decision maker encounters a problem in their action script and starts over with a different script, repeating the process until a scenario successfully plays out. They then act out the successful script.

When the decision maker is experienced, their recognition patterns are more developed, giving them more past scenarios to extrapolate data from and making it more likely that their first option is the best one. For younger or less experienced decision makers, the rational working through of mental scenarios and troubleshooting of possible problems takes a more prominent role.

The pros of the Gary Klein recognition primed decision making model lie in the fact that both intuitive and rational reasoning are used, and experience can factor in. This has coined the term "pre-mortem"; when you gaze into an imaginary crystal ball and predict what happens if you follow a particular course or script. What worked? What failed? This mental simulation allows you to "learn"; before the event and prevent problems before they arise.

The con may be that some people may use this model when one of the other two would be more appropriate for example for a novice or for a non critical decision.


If you're still not sure how to skin a catfish....

And if comparing these decision making models isn't enough, take a look at Edward De Bono's Six Hats Thinking for a decision making model for non life threatening situations.


By Lyndsay Swinton
Owner, Management for the Rest of Us


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Citation Information: Swinton, Lyndsay. "Comparing Decision Making Models: 3 ways to skin a catfish" 09 September 2010. < >


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