Obviously, we all need love. This post, however, is not about love, but about compassion and its complementary.

Compassion is when you see a person in misery and you begin to feel with her.

Compassion is when you pour your heart out, feel her pain and cry with her.

Compassion is when you you take the time to listen to, console and comfort her.

When does it happen?

It happens when you shift your focus from yourself to the others, when you make the time to stop, pay attention and take care.

Compassion is your empathic ability to respond to the needs of others and join them on their level to help them grow. Yet, compassion, is perhaps a moment too late. It is inspired by an outside event or a call.

What comes before that?

It is the very act of noticing the other person as she is, perhaps even at the peak of her strength.

Acknowledgement is about showing gratitude for her beaming attitude, praising her for diligent work, efforts or smiles.

Acknowledgement is about encouragement when the attitude, energy, mood or performance are still high (or at least not lacking).

Acknowledgement is about approval when things go well, when her will is strong so that she can go bravely through difficulties.

It is very important. 
Why?
Because we all have a basic need to be heard, seen, acknowledged and understood.

A smile or a sign of appreciation can go a long way, much longer than you can imagine. Their actings have a cumulative effect. Gratitude and appreciation leverage support a person receives for her job, learning new skills or going through hardships. It is much easier to fuel the fire of motivation and keep her going than to overcome the inertia when she fails and stops.

Open your eyes and begin to notice.
Express what you value in the efforts of others.
Show appreciation.
Spread kindness.
Not this day only, but every day.
It’s never too much.

In compassion you recognize the sameness, the other person becomes a part of you.
In appreciation you recognize the difference, the individual power and uniqueness of the other.

Compassion is reactive.
Appreciation is proactive.
They make a lovely pair together. A dance between similarity and difference will help you to flourish and grow.

***

Kindness and appreciation. A great book on kindness is Why kindness is good for you, by David Hamilton. Highly recommended.

Compassion. You may listen to a short talk on compassion by Daniel Goleman, the author of Emotional intelligence:

***

Wealth creation

Photo courtesy Jan available on Flickr.

Getting rich or wealthy is a dream of many.
You would like that too, wouldn’t you?

Let us begin with the four pillars of wealth creation.

According to a dictionary, wealth is the abundance of valuable resources or material possessions. Interestingly enough, we often think of wealth in terms of accumulated money or possessions. We forget that wealth is so much more than money.

In short,

Wealth creation is about habits, practices and systems that provide you with the abundance of resources. Of various kinds.

This can only be achieved and maintained through conscious thinking and actions.

Rich vs wealthy

Let me first clarify the difference I perceive between “rich” and “wealthy”. Even though they may be considered as synonyms, their meanings are different in the practical use of the English language.

Richness is about a series of events in which we earn money or receive money. We may think of a well-paid job (but not necessarily secure), investments, inherited money or lottery wins. When we hear “rich”, we think of “being rich” or, more frequently, we think of “getting rich”. Ideally, fast 😉 The later expression describes external events that help us to earn or receive money, or collect valuable resources.

Wealth is about a process in which we create and deliver value, maintain the resources we have and accumulate new ones. When we hear “wealth” we think of “creating wealth” or “maintaining wealth” which are about long term approaches that involve a personal change.

In my opinion, “rich” is to “wealthy” as external circumstances that force you or help you to grow are to a self-inspired personal transformation. The difference lies in the details: the level of consciousness, value creation, independent thinking, self-discipline and the set-up of right systems.

Wealth creation

We are now at the core message here. There are four pillars of wealth creation. These are:
– Health
– Education
– Relationships
– Assets

Your health is your wealth

As you know it is hard to fully enjoy life when health is poor.  There are multiple limitations you will need to deal with, including low energy levels, possibilities for taking action and perhaps even the level of independence. Surely, you can achieve great things in any situation, but only when you take sufficient care of yourself first. When your health is compromised, you will spend lots of effort, time, money and energy to get yourself back on track.

Choose to become responsible for your health now. It may take some time before you get well, perhaps even years, but it is worth it. Even if you cannot become perfectly healthy, you can still create habits that support you in the optimal functioning on daily basis. Decide to take health as a life-time project and you will discover what serves you and what depletes you. In addition, you will learn to optimize both (maximize the former and minimize the latter).

Improvements will not likely happen overnight but they will come if you persist. Educate yourself on eating well, healing with whole foods, exercise, release of emotions (such as grudges, disappointments or anger), life in kindness and gratitude, meditation, prayer and rest. It is simpler than it sounds.

The challenge is that nobody can tell you what is right for you. There are theories, practices and guidance available. But there is a lot of confusion even with respect to the basic things: how to eat well or how to exercise well.

For any diet or recommendation you will easily find a diet with the opposite ones. E.g. raw food diet vs all-cooked diet, high-protein diet vs low-protein diet, eating small meals frequently vs fast-5 diet (eating only within five consecutive hours and fasting the remaining 19h – imagine that!), whole-grain based diet vs no-grain diet.

Obviously, the same holds for the exercising plan.

Finding meaning in chaos

How can you find out what makes sense?

I think that the first step is to learn about yourself. It can only happen through self-reflection and paying attention how particular food (or exercise) effects you during a day. Example questions to ask yourself:

  • Are you usually warm or cold? (too warm? too cold?)

If you are too warm you may need to eat more raw vegetables. If you are too cold, you may need to eat more cooked and spicy food.

  • What is your tendency under stress: anxiety or depression?

Anxiety is about confusion and expansion so you may need to eat food that encourages contraction such as naturally salty food (e.g fish) or drink herbal teas such as peppermint tea. Depression is about contraction, so you may need to eat food that nourishes and support expansion such as sweet root vegetables (carrot, parsnip, swede, sweet potatoes, pepper), lamb, lettuce or drink liquorice tea.

  • How do you feel satisfied after a protein-rich meal? Energetic or sleepy? Hungry soon after or heavy stomach? How do you feel after a carb-rich meal? Energetic or sleepy?

Depending on the action of protein and carbs on your body you need to find the optimal ratio. Warm people are often slow metabolizers, so it is the best to include more carb-rich food in their diets. Cold people are usually fast metabolizers and it is best to include more protein-rich food in their diets.

  • Which cravings or additions do you follow? Caffeine? Sugar or sweets? Energy drinks? Salty food?
  • What climate do you live in?

Hot climates will need more cooling foods, eating in their raw forms. Cold climates will need more cooked foods (such as soups or stews) to warm up the body.

  • What type of food depletes your energy soon after the meal?
  • What type of food make you feel energized hours after the meal?

Pay attention to what you eat and how it effects you. Health is a complex project and only through self-education, experimenting, reflection and observation you can determine what is best for you.

Why is health so important?

I believe that taking care of your physical, emotional and mental health is the first step to wealth creation. Why? Because your creative power, clear mind and good performance depend on your being well both in the mind and in the body.

More importantly, in the process of learning how to optimize and maintain your health you will learn how to deal with confusing information, cut through chaos, find meaningful suggestions, experiment and test various approaches. This is all done in order to set up habits and systems that promote your well-being. It is not an easy process, but possible!

Having learned how to take care of your health will teach you skills that can easily be transferred to creating abundance in your life. In the end, the maintenance of your health is about the right habits and approaches to which you stick daily.  It will prepare you to handle similar challenges, but now with respect to independent thinking, saving, investing and business.

Eating well

I think that eating well is very important. What “well” means, however, depends on a person. One person’s healing food may be a poison to another. And I mean it.

I don’t advocate any particular diet because I don’t follow any to the letter. Moreover, it is a personal choice. I eat meat, even though I experimented with the vegetarian and vegan diets in the past. I drink green smoothie every day, self-made juices a few times a month and protein drinks most of the days.

I was very enthusiastic about the raw food diet and experimented with it for a few months, but I ultimately decided against it. Not because the diet is bad, but because it is not optimal for me. In the cold / rainy climate, where I live,  I feel more nourished by warm, cooked meals than by raw meals. As I also long for leafy greens and vegetables, I eat both raw food and cooked meals.

When I cook I often follow the ideas from the traditional Polish cooking modified by the principles of the Paleo diet or the five element theory from the traditional Chinese medicine. I also use fermented vegetables (sauerkraut, pickles) in the kitchen and lots of herbs, where turmeric, wild thyme, ginger, basil, marjoram, cumin, cloves and black pepper and chilli are my beloved standard. They are pretty healthy, by the way.

Books

There are a few books that are thought provoking. Please don’t take them as dogmas even though the authors have strong opinions. Avoid to be biased in thinking by beliefs of the authorities or gurus. take what speaks to you and adopt the ideas to your personal circumstances.

Traditional foods

Five elements cooking / whole foods

Paleo diet

Green smoothie and high raw diet

Health is your first foundation towards the wealth creation. Please treat it with respect.

Your education is your wealth

I understand education broadly as an inspired learning, not necessarily bound to particular diplomas or titles, schools or universities. All education is self-education as you will ultimately learn things by yourself. The help of mentors, teachers or masters will usually speed up the learning process or allow you to better understand the foundations. Mentors are not necessary though. Schools or universities provide teaching systems which will serve some but may be too limited for others.

The truth is that you can learn new things all the time by studying books, online learning, following courses, learning from a mastermind group or a mentor, training at university, and so on. And there is plenty available for free. Just look around!

You can also learn through observation, experimenting, reflections and discussions with others. There are many ways to enquire knowledge and put it to test. And yes, testing it is necessary to find out what works for you and what doesn’t.

My experience is that new skills and new techniques add to your repertoire of life experience. A new skill creates new neuron connections in the brain. As a result, there are more paths for information processing. And you would rather choose to have your brain full of connections than empty, wouldn’t you?

Your intelligence depends on the recognition of patterns, observing the difference and connecting seemingly unrelated ideas. The more connections in your brain, the higher your intelligence. The more you know and can, the more interesting your life becomes.

Skills developed in one area can often be transferred (after some modification, obviously) to another area. This is a common phenomenon in science when new inspiration and creative solutions arise from the marriage of particular ideas in e.g. computer science and physics, neurology and computer science, organic chemistry and math and so on. But the same applies to our lives too.

Your knowledge on nutrition and cooking skills can help you to organize your clutter-free life. Your organization skills can help you to become a good teacher. Your talents with kids can help you to become an artist. Your musical trainings can help you become a good scientist. Your engineering skills can help you become a great climber. And so on.

Your knowledge and your skills are your valuable resources, your second pillar to wealth creation.

Always look for learning something new – there is no better way for increasing intelligence. Moreover, learning is fun.

Your relationships are your wealth

It’s hard to exist alone. It is certainly possible and even greatly serves a few individuals, but without community we lack both reference for our growth and a place where we belong. Relations create a context and a domain of knowledge. It is a matrix where we live in. They reflect to us who we are and help us develop. They also pose challenges, which we understand here as possibilities for growth.

Most importantly, relationships allow us to receive love and to give love to others and live in a flow. This is the optimal state of being in which we feel deeply alive. We keep balancing between the polarities of similarity and difference, independence and interdependence, giving and receiving, sorrow and joy. Without relationships we loose the meaning of life.

It is the quality and depth of relations that matter most, not the quantity. We long for meaningful connections with others, for the recognition of ourselves and own vulnerabilities in others. We are tired of surface courtesies and polite talk for the sake of keeping manners.

If this is true for you, start to meet people where they are – in their weak spots and in their achievements. Seek to understand first, listen actively and develop empathy. Cherish their achievements. Be kind. Volunteer to help. Spread love. And your life will become meaningful.

Seek to connect with inspiring and positive people and cut off draining relations. Find good teachers. Make friends with people who already have the skills you want to develop. Because it matters.

Recognize you are not alone. Your wealth lies in the matrix of people who are supportive of you. Appreciate that.

Your assets are your wealth

Assets as possessions are the usual ingredient of wealth. But there is some confusion about assets and liabilities. For instance a house or a car are usually considered as assets, definitely on the balance sheets. They are not necessarily so.

Let’s keep things simple. Assets are possessions or resources which bring us money. Liabilities are possessions which cost us money.

A house you bought with a 20-year mortgage is not your asset. It is your liability. First of all, you don’t own it. Secondly, you have to make repairs or investments as things worn out. The house costs you money. Even if you pay the mortgage, there are still taxes and maintenance costs – the house does not bring you income (until you sell it, obviously).

On the other hand, a house becomes an asset when you rent it and the monthly payments cover the necessary investments (and mortgage if there is one) and leave you some money on the top.

Clearly, a car is a liability. Its value deteriorates quickly with time and there are high maintenance costs. For this reason the best advice is to drive 2nd hand cars, and, ideally until the end. A piece of land that you own and lease to a farming business is an asset.

Saving accounts look like an asset because you seem to earn some money by interest. However, many banks do not keep up with the rate of inflation. For instance a bank may offer 1% interest while the inflation rate is 5%. Consequently, by keeping money on your account you basically loose money. Isn’t that ironical?  It is usually much more profitable to invest the money wisely in a business or to buy gold or silver.

Please educate yourself on the subject of finances. Ramit Sethi, who also published the book I Will Teach You To Be Rich, is an example to learn from.

The biggest asset for wealth creation

It is you.

Yes, it is you.

Surprised?

It is who you are and whom you are becoming.
It is your being: your vision, your purpose and your integrity.
It is your doing: your traits, your skills and your actions.

Finally

Wealth creation is like farming. Improve your soil first (health and assets) so that you can plant quality seeds (education), support their growth (education and relationships) and collect your abundant crops. It is possible.

***

no_giver_without_receiver

When you give, you are in a position of power and control. You have something to offer. But perhaps the act of giving is not of a pure intention.

When you receive, you are in a position of humbleness. You have something to welcome and accept. But perhaps what you are receiving is not what you really like, want or need.

The smallest gift

Can you receive the smallest gift possible, a complement?

Imagine your colleague says “You look great in this outfit!” or “A great presentation, indeed”.
What is your response?
Do you diminish yourself by saying, “Oh, I bought it really cheaply” or “Well… I guess it was fine.”
Or, you simply answer “Thank you. It’s nice you are telling me that”

How to receive

If somebody offers you a gift, express him/her gratitude for the time and effort spent to organize your gift. Pause for a moment, look into the eyes of the giver and say “Thank you”. It will make a difference.

Allow yourself to accept gifts from others. Appreciate what is coming. If somebody offers you a lift or paying your bill, say “yes” and be happy about such a lovely surprise. Forget about being vulnerable or owing them something in return. If you don’t like the gift or don’t need it, pass it on to someone who can enjoy it. Barter. Give it to a charity. Sell on ebay. Whatever.

As you do this, you support the flow of life going effortlessly. Everyone gets to win. When you refuse a gift, in that moment you block the flow of blessing in your life, and perhaps also in the lives of others.

True giving is always out of love. Accept the gift if it comes this way. Remember there is something majestic about receiving. A queen receives ambassadors or prime minsters. A noble man receives honors. A hotel receives guests.  Begin to see the act of receiving as an act of welcoming and accepting something special. Because it is so.

When not to receive

You may choose to decline the gift, if someone is giving for the wrong purpose. This means givning in order to make you dependent or force/expect you to do something in return that is not to your advantage.

“How do you know this is the case?”

You’ll simply notice it or sense it. There is a perplexing feeling that something is not truly all right. The best is to show appreciation while rejecting the gift. You may say something like that  “I appreciate your thinking about me and the effort you put to buy/make this gift. I cannot receive it, however. I feel this will create an extra pressure on me to do X [whatever X is in this case] which I don’t want. I am sorry if this is hurting you. I hope you can use this lovely gift for another person”.

You may also choose to accept a gift when the person is giving for the wrong reasons though. If your heart is pure, you can still help the blessings come.

How to give

Are you a joyful giver? Are you giving freely, with the purest intention possible?

True giving comes from the heart.

You give because you want to express gratitude.
You give because you want to help someone.
You give because you want to enrich the other person.
You give because you want to bless yourself and the other person.
While this may all be true, ultimately, you give because you want to grow as a conscious being.

Give and forget about your gift.

Release any expectations. In your mind set the person free to do whatever he/she wants with your gift. They are free to use it, abandon it, throw it away or give it away. The gift serves you as an outlet for your love, for sharing what you have.

Give with joy and the intention of blessing the other person. It will transform you.

Where to give

You should give to a person, place or organization where your giving is going to contribute the most.

Give to support a meaningful goal of the people you know. This may be an education of a kid.

Give to your friends to help them go through difficult times. This may be money when they desperately need it or teaching them a skill while they are looking for a new job.

Give to support where you are personally involved. This may be your local quilting club or climbing club. Give where you receive the most joy.

Give where you receive the spiritual growth. This may be your local community or your local church. Give where you receive guidance.

Give where you learn a lot. Give to people who inspire you, help you and love you. This may include your parents or siblings, your neighbours or friends, teachers, mentors, schools, universities, and so on.

Giving and receiving

If you give something to others, you should also allow them to give something back to you if they desire to. But you can perfectly receive from another source 🙂

Giving and receiving are a part of an ever-active circulation of value exchange and blessings. You cannot give that what you don’t have. When you give, you need to receive something in return to continue to give more. When you receive, you need to give something to continue to receive more. And so on.

Remember that what you give may be totally different than what you receive. You may give your efforts to teach a person a skill and receive a life-transforming book from another. You may give your knowledge and receive a place to live. You may give your laptop to a child and receive a dinner invitation from friends. Simply give and receive.

You contribute to others and you are supported by them. You bless others and they bless you. You enrich others and they enrich you.

Giving is a skill of conscious outflow. Receiving is a skill of conscious inflow.

The key is to live a life of balance and be happy with yourself. Then from that place you can reach out and help others even more.

And the final message is …

Giving and receiving are the two opposites of abundance. Your task is to maintain the flow.

{Give → Receive} × REPEAT

***

Photo courtesy Fe Langdon, available under the Creative Commons license on Flickr.

***

 

Every year I take the time to remember the Ones who passed away. I do it especially on the All Saints’ Day and All Soul’s Day, i.e. the 1st and 2nd November.

The Ones are family members, friends and interesting people whom I have met on my path.

I light the candles and recall who they were and what they strived for.

I recall their experiences, learning points and funny stories.

I remember our common joy, fun and laughter as well as seriousness and responsibility.

And I remember the understanding I achieved as a result of our meetings.

I remember love.

In all this I uncover patterns in their lives and I look for the lessons I can apply to mine.

I honor the People for the blessings they brought into my life.  I pray for their families to be blessed anew.

This little ritual is for me an appreciation of Gratitude, which is memory of the Heart. I do this to acknowledge that whom I have become is influenced, inspired or challenged by the People I have met in my life.

Give honor and become grateful for the People who crossed your life path.

It is special.

***

 

rational_decision

  • How come you have applied the best strategies to make the best decision, yet the solution you arrived at did not stand against the expectations?
  • How come you have spent so much time on analyzing the data, but the solution did not bring the happiness you were after?
  • How come you have dissected the problem so well, yet the solution was only mediocre?

How I made a rational decision

Ten years ago I was buying my first laptop ever for work and I could freely choose the one I wanted. Laptops were very expensive then so I wanted to make the best decision possible.

What did I do?

I took it very seriously. I spent a whole month studying information on the Internet about available laptops. Although I defined a few important characteristics, it still left me with more than 150 possible laptops. I was studying reviews, people who commented on user’s experience, and multiple indices and statistics.

In meantime, my colleagues made their choices. It took them perhaps 1-2h to decide for particular Asus laptops. Then they were teasing me on my being stuck at multi-objective optimization. They had lots of fun at my decision making process.

Finally, I arrived at a perfect laptop, the best combination of memory, hard disc, video graphics, speed of processor, touch pad etc. To my surprise, happiness did not follow. Despite my lengthy ration decision making process, the laptop didn’t serve me well. It turned out into a horrible experience.

It was a laptop that had never worked. I mean, it worked with simple tasks, but most of the time there was something wrong with the touchpad, mouse or keyboard that prevented me from working smoothly. It contributed to months of frustration.

The laptop went through multiple repairs until I lost patience and abandoned it completely. I was crushed, especially that the other Asus laptops worked like charm.

I learned my lesson then. With gratitude.

Th next time when I was buying a laptop, I gave myself a few hours to make a decision. Most of that time was devoted to learning about possible options and laptop characteristics. The decision itself took a split of a second.

First, I decided to buy Asus. Next, I asked my colleagues for suggestions (read: learn what experts say) about current best features to optimize for the tasks I would need to perform. Finally, I studied available Asus laptops and made a choice which was the most appealing. I simply chose a laptop that felt right. In addition, I mentally decided to make it work for me. And it was a great buy indeed. It worked like a charm, too.

What’s the point of this story?

Rational decision making

In general, there are three approaches to decision making: rational, emotional and intuitive (or any combination of these if processed sequentially). In the rational decision making scenario you:

  • Define the case and the decision to be made.
  • Identify the features (characteristics) of the problem.
  • Identify the criteria for the result.
  • Analyze all possible solutions.
  • Predict goodness-of-fit = calculate consequences of the solutions based on their ability /likelihood of fulfilling the criteria.
  • Choose the best option.

It sounds pretty straightforward, but it is not. Why? Because rational decision making relies on a few strong assumptions:

  1. All options are possible to consider.
  2. There are descriptive features for the task.
  3. There is a clear way (function) to evaluate the future consequences of the features.
  4. There is a well-defined criterion for the result.
  5. There is one best outcome.

In reality these pre-suppositions often do not hold. First, it may be hard to choose a few important features and a performance measure as a function of the features. Even if you define the most important features, you may also include others weighed appropriately to reflect their importance. Secondly, it may be impossible to evaluate all options. Next, it may be hard to judge the goodness of the result from an external point of view. Finally, there may be multiple solutions.

The challenge of the rational approach is there because we hardly ever have well defined features and a performance (or error) measure available for optimization. What we usually encounter are situations of multi-objective optimization. This means that we have a few criteria or error measures that we want to optimize simultaneously. Since the criteria are often interconnected, one needs to pre-define either a linear or nonlinear trade-off. And this is hard if not impossible beforehand.

To make things worse, we are not always sure whether some of the features need to be considered as part of  the criterion-hood 😉 If you are in the field of multi-objective optimization then you know that this is not a straightforward task. The solution lies somewhere on the so-called Pareto front, which is a surface of multiple solutions.

Consider this scenario

Imagine you want to buy a laptop. If your only criterion is cost then you can optimize it easily by buying the cheapest laptop available. Yet, this is not what you want.

Say, you are a programmer/researcher and you want a laptop with a fast processor and a large memory. Moreover, it has to be light because you want to carry it around while running memory-exhaustive applications. But you are also picky about some user-experience features.

You have strong opinions about keyboards and you only like the ones with a certain softness. Moreover, you hate flashy buttons and you would like to a laptop with plain keyboard only. You want to buy the cheapest laptop under the constraints mentioned above. Some can be quantified by numerical characteristics (memory size) while others may not (softness of the keyboard).

If you are given an upper limit of money, you may decide to sacrifice hard disc space for a large RAM memory. What also happens is that some of the features (such as large RAM and big hard disc) may be put into the goodness-of-fit criterion in which you will be looking for a trade-off between cost and the size of memory and storage.

What should be a trade-off?

You will usually not define it explicitly but analyze a number of options usually hesitating between a few. At that point, the solutions will differ by different nonlinear trade-offs of the individual features. Making a rational choice would require the definition of the optimal trade-off function, which is often impossible.

Consequently, you will either analyze the few choices endlessly to collect more outside evidence (extra features that will enter the equation), such as reviews and opinions or you will make a decision by emphasizing which feature is the most important (say, cost).

However, you may also follow a different route by fixing the laptop’s weight to a certain range (as a feature) and then define a good trade-off between the sizes of  memory and hard disc.

Do you see what I mean? There is an inherent difficulty to define well-descriptive features, their importance weights or the goodness-of-fit measure.

The curse of dimensionality

Let’s look at the features now. In the field of statistical learning there is a famous phenomenon called “the curse of dimensionality”, “overtraining” or “Rao’s paradox”. I will explain it below because it has an impact on our decision making process.

Originally, we may assume that the more details (features) of the case we collect, the better the description of the situation we have at hand. The more details, the better quality of the description and the more informative decision.

Counter-intuitively, it is is not valid.

Let’s consider the traditional statistical learning. If you take a single model and keep adding features (details) to see how well your model is doing according to a chosen error measure or performance criterion you will observe a very particular behavior.

If you keep the number of observations (say laptops to consider, people, etc) fixed but you add more and more features (details), the error will originally decrease, only to steadily increase after a while. See the image to the right.  If we look at a goodness-of-fit function, it will behave the other way around. It will originally increase with the increasing number of features and steadily decrease after a while. This happens after a sufficient number of features is reached.

What we are saying here is this:

There is a certain point after which adding new details becomes useless, and moreover, they may work against your model (error measure or goodness-of-fit function).  You are going to get worse results.

Incredible, isn’t it?

Human decision making

Consider now human decision making.

There is a consultant who looks at symptoms of a difficult cancer case and has to make a decision whether to send the patient to an operation or radiotherapy. There is a company CEO who analyzes multiple indices of the company performance (sales, cash-flow, marketing strategies etc) and has to decide about the next strategy of growth. And there is you to choose your laptop, your university, your holiday destination, your next job, your house, your wife and so on.

Well if you take the same analogy as above to a human decision making based on the data, we may conclude that the quality (performance) of the decision will initially increase up to a few features (pieces of information) and deteriorate if you start adding more features. Or in terms of errors, the error of the decision will initially decrease up to a few features and increase if you keep including more.

Our rational mind is unable to juggle more than 3-7 pieces of information in a given moment.

We cannot possibly weight say 20 features and optimize trade-offs between multiple criteria in our minds to get the best decision. The reason is simple. There are too many variables of different kinds and too complex models (non-descriptive features, nonlinear relations between features, multiple or nested criteria, vague goodness-of-fit function, etc) and the optimum is simply not uniquely defined. The optimum is not a point but merely a surface of possible solutions for various trade-offs.

And you lack a meta criterion to tell you which trade-off to emphasize.

Rational analysis: a brief how-to

The learning point is as follows. If you want to stick to a rational decision making, constrain your problem and the solution path sufficiently:

  1. Select a few well-defined features (characteristics, descriptions), ideally not more than seven.
  2. Choose a simple criterion.
  3. Choose a simple goodness function or performance measure.

For instance, you may consider a case with  “yes”/”no” decisions described by  a number of binary features (“yes”/”no”) and a simple goodness-of-fit function calculated by a weighted average of feature contributions. Or you may have a complex model (in your working brain) but you only rely on a few well-defined features. This will work well.

In the cases above you can define optimal decisions given the limited framework. In many other cases, however, your rational decision is suboptimal because you cannot define your necessary features and criteria well. Moreover, your suboptimally best decision will likely be not the best because you have missed a feature or modification that you were unaware of at the time of decision making but which will largely influence the situation.

In addition, too much data and too much information will inhibit your decision making. You may simply get stalled in a surface of a few possible solutions which optimize the features and criteria in different ways. And you will not know how to choose a meta goodness-of-fit function to select one and only best solution. So, you will hesitate or wait for ages until you get tired and pick an arbitrary solution from the permitted ones.

So, what is the best approach for complex situations?

Is it emotional decision making???

Addendum

This is added by my friend Bob.

It is fascinating that computers as well as humans suffer from the “curse of dimensionality”, or confusion by details. This phenomenon was objectively measured in many experiments. The results of an early one, from the 70’s, is shown in the image to the right.  It is an old scan of an old paper, so please forgive the quality. It shows that the accuracy of the diagnosis of a group of 100 medical experts first increases and then decreases as a function of the number of medical tests (symptoms) that are being considered. This points to the fact that in a large medical examination always some problem may be found. May be there is nothing wrong in it, just the result of statistics!

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Photo courtesy Jamie Frith, available under the Creative Commons license on Flickr.

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The series of posts on decision making

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