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Finding the single decisive reason

Superhuman recently mentioned a productivity hack that offers a useful heuristic for critical thinking. In fact, the idea may just be the elusive quick-and-dirty solution to the weighing problem. It’s apparently a tactic of Reid Hoffman that was shared in Harvard Business Review in 2015: the single decisive reason.

The idea behind using a single decisive reason is that if you find yourself citing many reasons, you’re unlikely to have a particularly good one. Humans are biased thinkers and they are pretty good at finding reasons for any position they would like to hold. If they need multiple reasons to persuade themselves, all of the reasons lack power.

This makes sense. Yet it also flies in the face of critical thinking literature, which emphasizes careful analysis by listing — and ultimately weighing — many different pro- and counterarguments. A single, persuasive reason, after all, may just be inspired by tunnel vision or belief bias. Getting the full picture is an inoculation against biased reasoning.

On the Superhuman blog, Rahul Vohra offers a synthesis of these two approaches. He proposes to use a single decisive reason, but on an informed basis. What he does is categorize reasons and then focus on the reasons in a (predetermined?) valued category, to see whether one of these stands out on its own.

This quickly breaks down the complexity of a decision and, if good reasoning practices are employed, does not add a whole a lot of bias. It’s quicker and therefore more easily applied in daily life than the Benjamin Franklin method of decision-making.