The Hockey-Puck Theory


The average person’s life is like a hockey puck; frequently being redirected, involuntarily, from one path to another. Often we don’t realize when we are redirected. It is the little decisions in life that we make, without much thought or analysis, and the little decisions that others make, which influence our lives in small and major ways.


You walk into a club with some friends to have a few drinks and listen to music. You see someone you are attracted to, but don’t know the person, so you manage to meet him or her. You hook up, and your life has been forever changed, even if it is just a short-term relationship.


You are running an errand one Saturday and happen to pass a Pet Smart. They are having an Adopt-A-Pet day. You fall in love with a puppy and decide to adopt it. Your life has just undergone a major change based on a very biased, emotional decision.


There are unlimited examples of small decisions that we make which change our lives in big ways. Now you may be thinking, well, that is the nature of life. We can drop something or trip over something, or change our mind when ordering dinner at a restaurant, and our future is forever altered. This is true. Life unfolds with each passing second, and who is to say what will happen next or what path we will follow?


The problem is that most, if not all, of these small, life-influencing decisions are biased, not thought out, and frequently irrational. We tend to reserve our analytical decision-making skills, if we have them at all, on large decisions, like which college to attend, what car to purchase, which house to buy, and what financial investments to make. The probability of these big decisions being biased is also very high, but not nearly so high as the thousands of small decisions that we make on impulse, feelings, peer pressures, lack of forethought, and a host of other irrational, biased thinking, or lack of thinking.


So, what advice should someone give who teaches decision-making? Yes, there are lots of books on decision making that list many steps to follow, such as how to recognize a problem, evaluating your objectives, defining the problem, determining the root cause and contributing causes, looking for solutions, evaluating solutions, implementation, and follow-up. But who really follows these steps? Perhaps, for the really big decisions, we might make an attempt, although I’ve yet to see the process unfold as preached. In organizations, particularly in strategic decisions where the process should be used, politics, and a host of other influences, corrupt the prescribed decision-making techniques. For small decisions, organizations would never bother do such analyses, and neither do we.


Most of us feel we have more control over our destiny than we really do. We are irrationally optimistic about our futures, and this may be a good thing. With optimism comes confidence, and with confidence comes motivation. People who are confident and motivated, tend to have more successful lives than those who lack them. Confidence and motivation don’t necessarily mean that we are going to make unbiased, rational decisions. But it does mean that we will be more effective in pursuing courses of action that stem from those decisions. And that’s probably the best that we can hope for in the field of decision making.