Month: November 2012

Decision-making by flipping a coin

Posted by – 20/11/2012

Yesterday I was discussing in an online board how to break a decision deadlock in life. There are real deadlocks, but I don’t think they are very frequent… most of the time, doing a pros and cons analysis is enough to decide what to do. Sometimes our judgement is impaired by lack of objectivity or by our inability to see things from a different point of view (it’s hard to think straight when everything seems to be falling apart around you); talking to a friend or relative can help in these situations.

But there are times when nothing helps. When you are really stuck and nothing seems to break the deadlock. At these times I give it one or two days, sleep on the issue and if I cannot come up with a decision I assume the alternatives are equivalent to me and just flip a coin.

Of course, this will do if you can postpone the decision, giving yourself (and your inner self) time to decide on a course-of-action. But is there some way to speed up the process? During the discussion, someone came up with a rather smart quote by Rothstein character in Boardwalk Empire TV series:

Flip a coin. When it’s in the air, you’ll know what side you’re hoping for.

I found it an interesting way to give your inner self an ultimatum: decide or luck will decide instead. I’ve never did it like that, for I would not flip a coin unless it’s my last resort. Being such a clever psychological idea, I doubted it originated in the TV series itself, so I went on pursue of the original idea. I found a Danish poet and mathematician called Piet Hein, who wrote a poem about it circa 1969:

A PSYCHOLOGICAL TIP

Whenever you’re called on to make up your mind,
and you’re hampered by not having any,
the best way to solve the dilemma, you’ll find,
is simply by spinning a penny.
No — not so that chance shall decide the affair
while you’re passively standing there moping;
but the moment the penny is up in the air,
you suddenly know what you’re hoping.

And also, there are a Donald Duck comic called “Flip Decision” circa 1953 that introduces Flipism philosophy, which supports a rather radical anecdotal variant: make all decisions by flipping a coin.

Piet Hein or Rothstein character idea is much better than Flipism, of course. Does anyone knows any older sources of the same idea?

That’s a lot to do!

Posted by – 07/11/2012

Reading about Michael Stapelberg’s codesearch I bet a lot of people had the same idea. I just had to post a screenshot of it:

It seems we have a lot to fix 🙂