The Science of Decision Making

Written by Martin Lucas


The brain is fascinating, Neuroscience is a topic that recurs throughout all kinds of discoveries and innovations I’ve had the privilege of travelling the world to discover. Understanding the What, Why and How of human thought patterns has been a lifetime passion of mine. In April 2015 I set off to deconstruct a vast range of theories in order to build a positive behavioural change model and now two years and six days later, what better place to start sharing these discoveries than with the science of how we make decisions, and not just as individuals, but decisions made by entire market places, cultures, companies, what makes us act one way or another?

What is Consciousness?

The philosophical technique of What Is questions is a great way to think about consciousness, one thinks that consciousness is a human trait, it’s the old opposable thumbs theory, our innate ability to think beyond a hunter gatherer mindset which makes us unique right?

Personally my theories have always been built with balance, I do this by rummaging around the darkest parts of a subject matter and then running right to the other side to look at the lighter, happier side. How can we understand the conscious mind using this balance? Let us begin with a few of the dark side examples, then I’ll shine some happy to balance your minds:

Suicide - The way we think suicidal thoughts, what causes us to be driven to this place in the first place, you can hear me discuss this here on a US radio show from last week. Self worth being the biggest challenge that drives us to a very unhappy place, this was a hard subject to research but very positive as like mental health, it is going through a knowledge boost which creates better awareness and more openness to ask for help (I’m advising on a mental health app covering all of the above).

You can also hear me discuss how trauma works in the brain on the same show, awareness helps people know it’s not a lost cause and change is possible. For addiction I had the privilege of spending time with two of the world's leading academic voices, Professor John Kelly of Harvard and Professor John Humphreys of Stanford, you can see my favourite from the interviews I conducted with each of them here and here (some really incredible aha moments about changing language and near choice). Side Note: The interviews were on behalf of DrugFAM, a charity I help for free, true difference makers AND a huge commemoration service at Westminster freakin’ Abbey on May 9th, I even spent time in 10 Downing Street discussing behavioural change, how cool? Very.

You can add self confidence, survival instinct, the ego, self worth and a host of other areas I looked at. What you begin to realise is that everything is solvable with the right kind of strategy, education and awareness which took me to the lighter side.

Happy - The science of happy, it’s a science! I know how happiness occurs, how to make it happen, it’s so cool. A higher state of consciousness, stilling the mind, the art of stillness, comes in many forms with many names, there is no magic bullet, you just have to feel ready to understand yourself as self awareness is the biggest step forward, more on this in future articles.

Behaviours - No one is born with behaviours, we learn them, from our parents, siblings, friends, culture, society, the country we're born in, all of it creates the person you are today. With me so far? Great, well please pay attention as it is not your DNA, it’s not your DNA, still not your DNA, that’s just a bad assumption to make, our DNA is the chemical stuff, you do indeed inherit, but behaviours are malleable, everything is changeable IF you want it be.. Behaviours is the part of the secret of behavioural change, EVERY single behaviour has a cause and effect of why it exists, if you understand what causes behaviours, well, then you can positively change behaviours!

You can add habits, positive thinking, mass thinking, collective thinking, proving we are a race of followers, the list goes on and on and all under the lens of how to understand decision making. In order to understand how to help someone make a decision.

The Brain, A Three tiered processor

Decisions happen in three parts of our brain, the Conscious Mind, SubConscious Mind and the Unconscious Mind. The brain is the most complex computer on the planet and I see decision making as a three tiered processor, here is how it works:

The Unconscious Mind - This is where your habits sit, this is the boss you are not always aware of, the boss making most of your decisions and deciding what matters, humans are literally completely unaware of what the unconscious mind is doing. Think about it, if you had to think about tying your shoes everyday, how to make a cup of coffee, how to drive, to dress, to take in all the things you see, hear, all the things people say to you, you’d never make it out the front door.

The Subconscious Mind - This is where your feelings live, it’s the conduit between the unconscious and the conscious mind. Most of the time it’s chilling then when the unconscious mind comes across something it doesn’t like it sends it to the subconscious, here is an example:

Unconscious ‘Alert, your friend is unhappy, possibly with you’

Subconscious ‘Bugger, let me read the situation, hmm, could be just annoyed with…no they are annoyed with me, ok, yo, conscious mind, get ready, be nice, ok say this’

Conscious ‘I’m on it’ > then we act, we talk to our friend.

Side Note: Emotional Intelligence is a subject matter that we all really need to focus on, it’s the key to winning in the future as the world evolves to less and less IQ (thanks to AI, read more here including a toaster taking over the world).

The Conscious Mind: This is where we do our conscious thinking, I mean it’s named accordingly but it’s not that simple, what is a conscious thought? It’s where humans spend their time, it’s what you are aware of thinking, behind the scenes it’s using a fraction of your brain power but it’s what you are aware of, think about that one more time, it’s only the thinking you are aware of doing.

Science, Decisions

98% of decisions are made in your unconscious mind, all those habits, all those behaviours, all those things that make you, you. In the past they said the greatest communication and advertising was connecting to the subconscious mind, when it comes to influencing decisions they were close, the truth is that the biggest positive behavioural change moments come when you connect to the unconscious mind, the challenge is what you are communicating, it can’t be a big change, can’t be too negative, just has to hit the mark based on what it is you are persuading them to decide on, just a nudge.

We will be sharing all sorts of insights about theories we tested, stuff we messed up and more from our past, present and future adventures week by week, for now, let me end with some results related to decision making, one client we are working with wanted us to review how to help them grow market share and one of the 38 things we had created was around their Facebook adverts, the market average is 0.47-1.61% for click through rates on Facebook, known as CTR. We achieved 8.7%, which is 500% above the top end market averages (our 5th result which was 400%+ above market averages covering sales, revenue growth, customer sign ups, social engagement), it’s all about understanding how a market thinks on a mass level and giving them the decisions they want to make.

We are all about behavioural change, sometimes that is marketing and other times it is sales, strategy, culture, platforms, apps, a system, anything involving people, what’s my point, decision making is a lot of fun, behavioural change is challenging but super fun to find solutions for. After all, after two years of theorising, time with all sorts of industries, academics and industries all over the world to build a model for positive change if you can’t have fun then you should change your decision :).

Till next week, happy times!