How Thinking Like a Detective Will Improve Your Decisions

Read time —
6 Minutes
Last updated
January 30, 2024

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How often do you ask yourself are you thinking well?

A vital part of decision-making is thinking. The process of thinking critically, of thinking deeply about a decision can make all the difference. But how often do we take the time to assess the quality of our thoughts?

When do we know whether we are thinking clearly or not?

This is a challenging question to answer.

Maybe the answer lies with a different approach. Could the way we attempt to rationalise our thoughts help lead us to a calmer mind. Having a calm mind certainly helps when needing to think objectively about a decision.

This leads me to the process of thinking like a detective.

You see, a detective must think rationally. Their object is to work out what’s going on. Thinking like a detective brings perspective and consideration to the fore.  When we challenge assumptions - by questioning other people's motives and incentives, we begin to think like a detective. Critical thinking is never sharper than when having to solve a problem.

It is an attractive process of thinking which brings objectivity to our decisions.

Why You Should Think Like a Detective

The powerful relationship between thinking and deciding is exposed in the game of poker - as Maria Konnikova explores in her book, The Biggest Bluff.

In the book, there comes an insight that supports the detective approach and helps us turn our stories from fantasies to reality.

Maria's approach was defined by a conversation with Phil Galfond. “In the game of poker, you’re a detective and a storyteller,” Phil tells her. “You must figure out what your opponent’s actions mean, and sometimes more importantly, what they don’t mean.”

When you're thinking through a decision, how do you build your story?

As a detective, you've got to weigh up the information around you. You've got to work out how the actions of others will fit with the choices you face. It may mean you have to explain your decision, so does the story - the narrative - make sense.

We’re all familiar with the concepts of how we make decisions. Our decisions are either made impulsively, where there is no conscious thought, or when we develop a narrative within our subconscious. We attempt to offer some rationale to the situation and the decision’s we face.

There is huge variance within these two decision-making processes, especially our subconscious thinking.

And it is here, we get to the reason we need to ask ourselves about how well we’re thinking. When we think using our subconscious, we are starting to build a story – a narrative that explains the situation in front of us.

Objectivity – The Key to Avoiding our Biases

Without clear thinking, your narrative risks becoming spoilt.

The creep of biases, the creep of emotional sentiment, and the creep of intuition all prevent us from playing detective. Instead, the story we tell ourselves falls apart as our ‘why’ disappears. The narrative turns into a collection of bad beats. That is, a story that makes us the victim; the 'it always happens to me' and 'life isn't fair'. With subconscious thinking, we need to find a way to step beyond the emotion and self-privilege we think we deserve.

What we need to be is logical and rational.

That’s where the quality of thinking begins to matter.

Which of course, draws us back to how we think. We can’t define whether our thinking is clear or not, but we can adapt a process of thought to put us on the right path. By thinking like a detective, we give ourselves a chance to be rational.

As they say, the process matters more than the outcome.

How to Think Like a Detective

Playing the role of a detective forces you to remove emotion, deflect the bad beats, and focus on being rational.

Your goal; to work out what’s going on. Of course, this means asking questions – it means thinking critically about the situation you face.

  • Why do you need to decide now?
  • How will it impact you?
  • Why and how will it impact others?
  • How does this all fit together?
  • Who stands to gain if I say yes - and why?

These questions begin to help you paint a picture.

But it becomes more than a snapshot – it becomes a story. A narrative that is logical and rational and explains the motives behind the choices facing us. It tells us what we think is going on here.

Thinking like a detective brings clarity to your thoughts and allows you to make future decisions with the support of a valid argument.

It still might not be the right story, but by taking the time to play detective, you've opened your mind to thinking clearly.

So, the next time you're faced with a decision - become a detective - ask questions - and validate your arguments logically by building a story you could tell others.

Image credit: Image by Tumisu from Pixabay

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