Diminish that Data
The more info you have, the better, right? The researcher Stuart Oskamp did a study of psychologists, finding that the more information they were given about a patient, the more accurate they believed their diagnoses were. Except they weren't. "That very desire for confidence is precisely what ends up undermining the accuracy of their decision," writes Gladwell. Rather than overloading your decisions with info, filter out the irrelevant and focus on the meaningful.
When the Pentagon ran the Millennium Challenge '02 (a war game to test new military strategies), it was shocked when the enemy team that had trained with commodities traders defeated a U.S. Army that had "an unprecedented amount of information and intelligence." In war, there's no time for data analysis. The Army did a "thoroughly rational and rigorous analysis that covered every conceivable contingency," but the enemy had gotten used to "making a thousand instant decisions in any hour." Practice spontaneous decision making (the kind a basketball player or soldier would make) until it's second nature.
Check Your Vibes
A study found that most doctors sued for malpractice didn't give their patients any lower quality medical information, but on average spent three minutes less with them and spoke in a domineering tone. Next time you interact with your colleagues and customers, think about the subtler cues you're sending and the impact they might have on your working relationship.
The psychologist Samuel Gosling discovered you can learn just as much about a person from a peek inside their bedroom as a daylong interview. A framed copy of a B-school degree hanging above someone's bed, dirty laundry scattered on the floor, or a shrine of decorative candles reveal how they'd like to be perceived, their behavioral tendencies, and how they like to make themselves feel. "What you avoid when you don't meet someone face-to-face are all the confusing and complicated and ultimately irrelevant pieces of information that serve to screw up your judgment," writes Gladwell. Think of creative ways you can gain more insight into candidates when prospecting for new talent (short of sneaking into their bedrooms, of course).
A version of this article appeared in the January 2005 issue of Fast Company magazine.