Avoiding Business Pitfalls

How To Avoid 3 Big Pitfalls For Better Decisions

How did I get this wrong? I looked over the facts and figures that were available to me. I even took the time to consult with two of my most trusted colleagues – I made an objective decision…or did I?

Has this ever happened to you?

Because you’re human, of course it has.

Let’s rewind…

After reviewing all the relevant information, you decided to meet with your colleagues before making your final decision. As you trust both of them, you knew they’d give you an honest opinion – even after hearing which way your were leaning.

You liked the opinion presented by colleague A. Therefore, you took her input on board. Although you valued colleague B’s opinion, you ignored what he said as it wasn’t aligned with yours.

Did you really make the best, most objective decision you could have? If you’d taken B’s opinion more seriously, might you have made a better decision?

Decision-making scenarios like this are quite common. It’s a classic example of when your brain makes a thinking error for an illogical, but human reason.

In this post, you’ll discover 3 common thinking mistakes and 3 big (and human) pitfalls to avoid for better decisions.

3 Pitfalls To Avoid

Pitfall 1

The above scenario is known as confirmation bias –  a common but flawed pattern in how you think. Incidentally, this thinking pattern applies to everyone, no matter how well-educated or intelligent.

It’s natural to surround yourself with information that matches your worldview. “Evidence selected by and for you”. If you didn’t, you wouldn’t be be human. 

In fact, your brain seeks out information that confirms your beliefs. This is the confirmation bias at work.

Pitfall 2 

When I was growing up there was a popular board game called Chutes & Ladders. The objective of the game was to reach square 100. 

In order to make it to the end you had to avoid the “chutes” or pitfalls that could send you back to the beginning. 

However, the “ladders” could help you jump ahead toward the winning square.

Has the following situation ever happened to you?

You’ve been watching an item on eBay for a few days. At this point you’ve invested a good 3-4 hours in this auction so far. And now, the real bidding has started…

In the final minutes leading up to the final bid, the price has increased far beyond what you were willing to pay a few days ago. But, you’ve invested way too much time and energy to turn back now.

3…2…1…You got it! You’ve won…or have you?

You’ve paid much more than you wanted to, and possibly more than the thing is worth brand new.

Don’t worry, you’re not crazy. You simply experienced the very normal sunk cost fallacy. As you had already invested a lot of time and energy (sunk), you weren’t about to walk away. Perhaps now it’s totally clear what happened. However, it wasn’t at all clear when your emotions were involved.

Pitfall 3

Image you’re planning a day trip to the mountains with your friends and family, including a nice picnic.

It has rained the last three weekends so you think it’s safe to plan it for this upcoming weekend. The odds are clearly in your favor…or are they?

If you decide to go and it rains, you would fall victim to the gambler’s fallacy. This is the pattern of placing too much weight on past events believing they will have an effect on future outcomes.

You have simply confused memory with reality. The logical truth is that past events make absolutely no difference to odds.

Illogical, But Human

If you’ve experienced one or more of the above scenarios it doesn’t mean you have bad judgment or poor decision-making skills. It simply means that you’re human. We are, after all, illogical creatures.

Understanding how emotions can override logic is the first step in building the “ladders” to avoid the “chutes”.

Generally speaking there are two main types of decisions:

  • Type A: While crossing the street a car comes out of nowhere and is speeding right at you.
  • Type B: You’ve been asked to take a 2-year job assignment abroad.

Type A requires a quick decision from the “gut”. Night after night, great athletes excel at this type. However, type B requires a slower more rational approach of the mind.

In the past these two kinds of decision-making were often separated by matters of the heart (gut instinct) and the head (rational mind).

However, new science points to the need for both, regardless of the situation or needed decision.

According to neuroscientist Antonia Damasio, “the more you pay attention to the outcome of trusting your intuition in combination with the facts, the better your future decision making can become”.

3 Tips For Better Decisions

Here are 3 tips to help you avoid these perilous pitfalls:

1) Widen your options

Remember the sound advice to get 3 opinions before before a complicated medical procedure? The same goes for a big decision.

More options will prevent you from having to choose between option 1 and option 2. Option 2 might be better than option 1 but that doesn’t make it a good option.

2) Get some distance 

Have you ever gotten the advice to “sleep on it” before making an important decision?  Well, this was great advice.

Distance will give you some needed perspective and allow you to think about potential consequences of taking an impulsive action. This may or may not affect your final course of action. However, it’s better to wait just in case.

3) Provide for unexpected outcomes 

What could be the worst case if the decision doesn’t work out as planned?

Think about the potential consequences of decisions and plan for how you would handle the worst case scenario or other unexpected results. This my cause you to re-think your decision or at least have a backup strategy in mind if things go awry.



First and foremost, be aware of these thinking patterns and why your brain can misfire so badly. Learning about them can be eye-opening and sometimes painfully funny.

And whenever possible, take a step back and look at the big picture. 

Ask yourself:

Why are my emotions involved here?
What information am I missing?
What would happen if…?

Take the time to examine the facts available to you and gather different opinions. This allows you to see the situation more objectively. Don’t base a big decision on your gut instinct without exploring all the data first.

Understand these 3 pitfalls to avoid them and apply these 3 tips for better decisions.

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  • Great article Tim! Hmm, it makes me reflect: Do I ever get more than one ‘second opinion’? I don’t think I do. I tend to trust my gut annnd use past evidence a lot…”This worked last time”. Maybe it’s time to consider more people’s opinions. Thanks!

      • Oooh what a fabulous question. No never…perhaps sometimes I’ve been over zealous and leapt in without a safety net, but it’s always led me to the right outcome one way or another.

        There have been times when my head said ‘do it’ and my gut said don’t. Later, I always hear myself say “I knew I shouldn’t have done that”.

        I’m a big one for trust your gut and follow your heart even when it’s hard.

  • Hi Tim,
    thanks for the impulse.
    It reminds me of the book “Decisive” by Chip and Dan Heath.
    The created the “WRAP-process” for better decision making. I can only recommend it to people who are more interested in the topic.
    best regards

  • I like this article. No-one has the monopoly on all the best ideas so gathering opinions to add to the findings that have been gathered helps in confirming conclusions from which options and recommendations can be formed.
    In today’s arena of AI and fast moving markets there is not always time to gather all the facts so choosing a sensible number of people with varying skills to gain opinions makes networking really important here.

    • Fully agree with you, Duncan. Thanks. BTW, how do you ensure that the people around you have the right skills?

  • Hi Tim, thanks for a thought-provoking article. Confirmation Bias is a real pitfall. The reminder to take some distance is valuable. With the increased focus on “being agile” and making decisions quickly, we need to remember to build time to step back and take a measured decision.

    • Thanks, Rebecca. BTW, any tips for how to stay as agile while taking step back?

  • Sleeping over it – especially on high profile situations or messages – is a good idea. Saves you time and energy down the line. I agree that we are all quite trigger happy to jump towards premature conclusions and biases – taking time to pause and reflect is never bad advice.

    • Totally agree, taking the time to pause and reflect is key! Thx for sharing, Marco.

  • Thanks for this interesting summary of possible pitfalls when making decisions.

    But what about situations where there is no “good” decision – where there are conflicting interests or where there is a big risk to take to make things move forward? (I mean in the start up world for instance, there are a few unicorns… and all the others!).
    In this kind of case, how to make sure we make the “most ok” decision and we can be ok with it (with brain and guts aligned)? Not easy…!

    • Thanks for your comment, Charlotte. I’d say that when your head and heart are aligned, and you’ve really reviewed all the data, you’re ready to make the decision. Tough decisions are a big and hard part of leadership. And the real test comes from how you react to then. Especially the bad ones.

  • Hey Tim,

    thanks a lot for summing up this basic but real important pitfalls and advices!

    Regarding especially Pitfall No 1 it just came to my mind, that exactly this is the reason why interdisciplinary teams are a precondition for Design Thinking processes. To understand the clients problems and then generate helpful solutions, it’s best to integrate diverse, even contradictory perspectives!

    • Thanks, Monique. I totally agree. BTW, how do you approach working together with someone when they really rub you the wrong way?

  • In my line of work it is common for decisions to be made based on what worked last time. It is hard to innovate in this kind of environment.

    • Thanks for your comment, Greg. So I’m now curious, how do you innovate here? Any tips?

  • Hi Tim, thanks for providing a solid framework around decision making. It takes a bit of discipline and practice to overcome our unconscious bias and remain objective when making both small and large decisions. This is something that I will refer back to from time to time as a good reminder. Cheers, Rob

      • P.S. Hi Rob, could you just let me know with quick OK if you got this reply back? As you know, I’m trying to improve this comments section. Thanks so much for your help!