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Turns out that in order to make better decisions, we need less information, rather than more.

Director of the Harding Center of Risk Literacy at Max Planck Institute German psychologist Gerg Gigerenzer notes “Experts often search for less information that novices do… the important point is that ignoring information can lead to better, faster and safer decisions.” [1]

On a sunny January day in 2009, Captain Chelsea Sullenberger along with 155 passengers on board Flight 1549 had the most unfortunate and unlikely incident happen to them. Flying in a perfect formation, a flock of Canadian geese not only hit one but two of the engines. Everything went silent, including the passengers.

Along with his co-pilot Jeff Skiles, they had to make a life-or-death decision to either attempt to land it at LaGuardia airport in New York City, or try something much riskier, like landing in the Hudson River.

“One might expect the pilots to have measured speed, wind, altitude, and distance and fed this information into a calculator.” Instead, Captain Sully and co-pilot Skiles used a rule of thumb:

Fix your gaze on the tower: If the tower rises in your windshield, you won’t make it.

This fast and frugal heuristic helped them to make a critical decision, all within 3 minutes of the geese hitting the airplane. During this short span of time, the pilots run through a series of dual-engine failure checklists. Given a combination of teamwork, systematic running through of information in a checklist, and the use of smart heuristics, Captain Sully and co-pilot Skiles made a miracle happen that sunny afternoon. Besides getting drenched, all passengers and crew survived.

(Click here if video trailer is not visible above. Available on Netflix)

Contrary to convention wisdom of needing to obtain a thorough clinical assessment when we first meet our clients, it turns out that we should fix our gaze on prioritising the types of information we aim to elicit that promotes directionality and engagement. Instead of focusing on the 4Ps (which most of us are schooled in the Predisposing, Precipitating, Perpetuating and Protective factors, we should learn to tune in the 1P: Client’s priority.

Furthermore, some information that we try to obtain in the first session can actually be “true but useless.” Instead of focusing on what we Take, we should focus more on what we Give. Otherwise, our clients might dropout of treatment. Nearly 30% of clients stop coming back for treatment after a single visit. (I wrote a book on this topic and how to undo this).

Less is not more, but less can actually be better. Knowing what are the essentials for your client—and parsing out the rest at the beginning—can actually help us make better clinical decisions, right from the get-go of our first sessions with clients.

[1] Gerg Gigerenzer, 2014. Risk Savvy.

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