Decisions And The Self-Protective Psychology Of Human Nature – Insight from Justice Breyer

Justice Stephen Breyer has a degree in philosophy from Stanford University. He received his law degree from Harvard University.

Have you ever made a bad decision?  The answer, of course, is yes.  Have you had trouble acknowledging, even to yourself, that your bad decision was a bad decision?  Again, I suspect, the answer is yes.

Yesterday, I heard a terrific interview with a professional decision maker.  The decision maker was Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer.  It was on Fresh Air with Terry Gross (the best interviewer out there!)  66 times in the interview, either the word decide or decision was used.  This man makes his living listening to two sides of an issue, and then deciding.

Most of these decisions are decisions where uncertainty looms its head, because the decision is between two good, almost equally strong and plausible sides of an issue.  After all, if it was an easy decision, it would not make it up to the Supreme Court.

Here is an interesting excerpt:

Justice BREYER: I’ll tell you something interesting about that too, if you want – human nature.

GROSS: Sure. Yeah.

Justice BREYER: I’ve found it interesting. I bet it’s true whether you’re in business, whether you’re in law, whatever field of life you’re in, you have a tough decision to make, really tough, and you think, my goodness, this is evenly balanced. Oh my goodness, what will I do? But I’m sorry, time is passing. You better make up your mind. And so you do and you think this side has a slight edge. Now time passes. Do you think you think I might have been wrong? No. As time passes you begin to think, I think I was probably right. More time. Yeah, I was right. More time. I sure was right. More time. How did I think the opposite? That is called the self-protective psychology of human nature.

(Soundbite of laughter)

I like that phrase: “the self-protective psychology of human nature.”

Just a little for us to think about as we make decisions in business, and in life.

(Listen to the interview here.  Read the full transcript here).

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