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Chapter 1. Be Focused and Flexible About... > Adult vs. Childhood Decision Making

Adult vs. Childhood Decision Making

Having a goal before you start out makes sense. Classical decision theory holds that purpose should come before action. In this “adult model” of decision making, adults study alternatives and take action to come as close as possible to achieving their goals. In the “childhood model” of decision making, however, we tell children to do things they do not want to do because we believe it will broaden their experiences, expand their interests, and perhaps lead to new goals (James G. March, Stanford professor of education). “Try your vegetables; you might learn to like them.” “Piano lessons will be good for you.” “You must take three years of math even if you don’t want to.”

In one decision model it is assumed adults already know what they want; in the other model it is assumed children do not. Classical decision theory (the adult model) tells us how to make good decisions but not how to find good goals. Positive uncertainty’s Paradoxical Principle #1—be focused and flexible about what you want—employs both the adult and childhood model: a both and more perspective.


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