I have long been a skeptic on the need for speed in all decision making. I remember the one-time European management hero Percy Barnevik declaring in Davos, “It’s better to be fast and wrong than slow and right.” Well, maybe once in a while.
I’m glad that my predisposition to reflection is echoed in the fascinating How Doctors Think. Jerome Groopman’s book is about the cognitive errors that can influence doctors’ judgments. What he consistently finds is that most doctors are unaware of the many cognitive pitfalls they face and their training does very little to educate them. Here’s one passage on the rush to judgment:
Most people believe that decisions in the ER must be made instantly, but [emergency physician Harrison] Alter said that “is a misperception that we doctors in part foster.” In order to think well, especially in hectic circumstances, you need to slow things down to avoid making cognitive errors. “We like the image that we can handle whatever comes our way without having to think too hard about it – it’s a kind of a cowboy thing.” As if being swift and decisive saves lives. But as Alter put it, he works with “studied calm,” consciously slowing his thinking and his actions with each patient in order not to be distracted or pressed by the hectic and sometimes chaotic atmosphere.
Groopman’s book is aimed at us as patients, but his lessons could be applied far more broadly. I can think of a bushel load of business executives that would profit from practicing “studied calm”.