What Were You Thinking? Biases and Rational Decision Making
by Ted Thomas and Robert J. Rielly
In general, we expect people to think and act rationally. Market theories, negotiations, and other human endeavors are based on people reacting and thinking in sane, rational ways. It is based on an assumption that we are logical and can make good decisions. But are people really that rational? Dan Ariely, a noted scholar, wrote a book on how we are all “Predictably Irrational.” Numerous authors have pointed out how psychological traps, cognitive biases, and world views cloud our thinking and lead us to irrational choices. Decision making is the realm of the leader. Leaders make decisions and our assumption is they are making good, rational decisions. However, in our rush to make a decision we forget that psychological traps and biases affect them just as they do the rest of us. This article will use the Bay of Pigs invasion as a case study to examine how these human characteristics often cause us to act in counterproductive ways and what a leader can do to offset them.
The 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion provides a fertile example of poor thinking and decision-making. In 1959 Fidel Castro completed his overthrow of the corrupt Batista government in Cuba. In the spring of 1960 Castro formally aligned himself with the Soviet Union, establishing a communist regime. Many of those in Batista’s regime and those who did not want to live in a communist country left Cuba for the United States. In the era of the Cold War, the U.S. did not relish the idea of having a communist country 90 miles off its coast, much less a nation closely allied with the Soviet Union…
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| About the Authors:Ted Thomas is director of the Department of Command and Leadership in the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Thomas graduated from the United States Military Academy and served in various command and staff positions before retiring. He received a master’s from the University of Illinois, and a Ph.D. from Missouri University of Science and Technology.
Robert J. Rielly is a retired Army lieutenant colonel and currently serving as an associate professor in the Department of Command and Leadership, U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.