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:


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 🙂