Models and methods of Naturalistic Decision Making (NDM) emerged in 1989 with the work of Gary Klein, Robert Hoffman and others, describing how people actually make decisions in real scenarios.

Prior research was carried out in controlled structured settings. It gave us prescriptions for the best ways for choosing among alternatives. It’s well established that people don’t perform according to strict consistent standards when making decisions – even if they do show up at a meeting with option probabilities and decision trees.

Sadly, decision support systems, work design, employee development methods, and policy were carried out according to these formal standards for making decisions. These are largely useless at best and harmful at worst because people don’t make decisions that way.

Now What?

If you want to know for sure how workers deal with their work, just ask them. So the pioneer NDM researchers did just that. They went into the field to find out how people make tough decisions under difficult conditions – high stakes, uncertainty, vague or shifting goals, unstable conditions, incomplete information. Sound familiar? Klein and others found people in these situations do not compare one option with another, using a choosing recipe. Instead, they use their experience to make sense of a situation, and predict what would happen next based on the first feasible option that comes to mind. If that quick calculation seems workable, they go with it. If not, they adapt it, or come up with another option that seems feasible.

It’s called satisficing, a concept from Herbert Simon (1957). Go with the first workable option and adapt, rather than looking for the best possible option. This is the ideal blend of intuition and analysis. Sense making is intuitive and relies on the quality of experience. Analysis of what will happen next is deliberate. Perfect and complete information is not a practical expectation.

Naturalistic Decision Making is a cognitive field research methodology that gives us a strong foundation for generating insights about behavior in complex work contexts. Resonance Labs uses many theories, methods and models. Naturalistic Decision Making – studying cognition in the wild – is our North Star.