Why does judgment matter?

We expect good judgment from a doctor making a diagnosis, an employer screening resumes, or a professor grading an essay. But even the wisest experts are susceptible to both bias (consistently going in the wrong direction) and noise (randomly missing the mark). The first step to more accurate and precise judgment is to understand the ways in which the human mind jumps to conclusions. Your judgment will never be perfect—but you can strive to be aware of your limitations and to correct for them.

Pulse Check

Think about yourself. When you face a problem that requires judgment, how many of these things are true?

  • I try not to jump to conclusions.
  • I am aware that this is a matter of judgment: I ask myself what someone I trust would think of this problem.
  • I independently ask several people for their judgment, and I consider their reasons.
  • I try to separate my hopes and fears from the facts and beliefs supporting the judgment.

How do I encourage judgment in others?

Model it. Talk about when you need to exercise judgment and when you don’t: “This is a problem where we should apply a predefined policy or set of guidelines, not a case-by-case judgment.” Where judgment is required, emphasize that disagreements are likely. Focus attention on the process: “What principles should we use to make this decision?”

Celebrate it. Praise people who are aware of the limits of their own judgment: “It’s great that you are trying hard to get the right answer, not just sticking to your prior beliefs.”

Enable it. Help break decisions into bite-size chunks: “What are the smaller, easier considerations on which this judgment depends, and how can you make them separately?” Use comparisons: Relative judgments are more reliable than absolute ones. Ask questions that take an “outside view”: “What would the typical answer be for comparable problems?” Leverage the diversity of perspectives: “Can we obtain independent opinions and use their average?”

“’Tis with our judgments as our watches, none
Go just alike, yet each believes his own.”

Alexander Pope

Our Playbooks are built upon scientific evidence.

About the Authors

Oliver Sibony Profile Photo

Olivier Sibony is a professor of strategy at HEC Paris. He is the author of You’re About to Make a Terrible Mistake and the co-author of Cracked It! and Noise: A Flaw in Human Judgment (with Daniel Kahneman and Cass R. Sunstein).

Daniel Kahneman Profil Photo

Daniel Kahneman is the Eugene Higgins Professor of Psychology at Princeton University, the winner of the 2002 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences, and a recipient of the National Medal of Freedom in 2013. He is the author of Thinking, Fast and Slow and Noise: A Flaw in Human Judgment.