Ways to make choices
Loosely speaking (and for the purposes of keeping this blog from becoming a dissertation) there are two major ways of making decisions.
Planning and preparation simply mean putting in some forethought, time and effort in order to work out the best way to go about doing something BEFORE you do it. It usually involves getting things ready and organised in advance of the time when they will be needed.
I would say that 60% of the time this is how I personally make decisions. Over time I have learned the hard way that even a little preparation can save you a huge amount of pain and effort in the long run.
Improvising, blagging, relying on your wits. The other way of making choices is to use what you already have and rely on your experience and judgement in the moment to solve any problems that emerge.
I have a friend whose approach to decision-making very much falls into this bracket. Let’s call him Tom Hunter (because that’s his name). In fact, let’s call it the Thomas Hunter Method, as I’ve been so affected over many years by the highs and lows of it’s application that I almost completely associate it with the decisions that my friend makes.
Now let’s see how the latter of these two played out in real life over the course of a weekend at Oktoberfest.
Blagging in Practice…
(click read more for a field report)
My journey to Oktoberfest began with a Monday morning Whatsapp message just over a week before the festival started. “Do you still want to go to Oktoberfest?” it said. Fortunately, my boss is more understanding than some about the booking of annual leave.
Five of us squeezed into a hire car at about 8pm on a Thursday evening in Twickenham which I am still not sure was insured for driving on the continent. It was at this point that I was informed that due to a mix-up, three of us (including me) had not booked anywhere to stay on the third and final day.
We drove through the night, arriving tired and groggy at the hostel at around nine in the morning. An absence of cash meant that we ended up temporarily paying for a few of our number who hadn’t anticipated the need for euros in advance. After a few brief hours of rest in a marquee full of bunk beds we then headed into town to grab lunch (a brilliant restaurant accidentally discovered whilst looking for a different one that had been recommended).
Following dinner, we ended up chatting to two American girls with the first of many beers in the Hoffbrau brewery. The prettier and more single one of the two (a parole officer) was decidedly unimpressed with my views on gun control which, though vindicated by recent events, did little to help my chances.
After that we went to an Irish bar to watch the rugby. England won and ‘the quiet first night’ became an early morning headache. What we hadn’t apparently reckoned on was that everyone else in our giant dorm-room / marquee would be getting up at ridiculous o’clock to queue up early so that they stood a chance of getting into a tent.
I remembered at this point my Bavarian friend’s amusement when I had asked what our chances were of getting a table on the first weekend of the festival. Tables get fully booked by January he’d said. The Germans do love getting their towels down early.
So at around 10am on the Saturday morning, we pulled on our lederhosen and took our hangovers on to the tram (which for one reason or another we didn’t pay for), heading straight for a day’s drinking inside another much bigger tent. Two of our number who’d disappeared with the Americans weren’t answering phone calls and didn’t make it up in time to leave with us.
The queue was (predictably some might say) huge. After 45 minutes we were roughly twenty feet from the front. It was at this point security started telling people in a mixture of English and German that it would be 3-4 hours before anyone else would be getting in.
Reluctantly, we left the queue and accepted that we might just have to hang around in one of the beer gardens outside. After taking a wrong turn, we spotted a side entrance badly guarded by a few men having a smoke. An heir of confidence allowed us to gently stroll in past the guards and in we went.
Once inside the tent the next problem is getting served. All the tables had been booked or occupied. We were just on the verge of giving up when someone without a table was spotted hanging around with a beer in their hand. Apparently all you had to do was to stand next to a table, ask the waitress to bring you some and tip generously.
The final logistical task, of getting ourselves a table somehow, was accomplished with similar tactics of improvisation. We stood next to the nearest table and luckily discovered a group of Americans and Canadians who were in such good spirits that it was easy to engage them in conversation. I somehow managed to bridge my quite terrible hangover with more beer and the good times started to roll.
Brilliant though this all was, my Saturday ended in separation from the group, my phone battery dying, getting soaked in the rain and flagging down a taxi to return me to the camp site.
On Sunday we returned to the same restaurant where we feasted on the Friday, where hangovers were again punished by being placed on a table right next to the live resident oompah band. This time we didn’t even arrive until 2pm in the afternoon and we simply found ourselves a beer garden in which to try and gee ourselves up for another day’s drinking.
After a stein (two pints in British money), we decided to attempt another run at getting into a tent. As we miserably eyed up the size of the queue a passing local offered us a set of wrist bands he hadn’t had chance to use. Sessions in the tent are sold in time sections. This one finished at 5pm and so the neon green bands would only allow us 30 minutes drinking time. Still, something was better than nothing. Regrettably there were only enough bands for the five of us, stranding a girl who’d recently latched on to our group outside. We promised to sneak back out later with an extra wrist band. To our discredit, we did not return.
The rest of Sunday is somewhat blurry, other than to say that table-grabbing tactics of the day before worked a charm and friendly locals were happy to join in the fun.
The plan for Sunday’s absence of accommodation had been ‘to throw some pop-up tents down by the grass next to where the car was parked’, and so it proved. The haze lifted as I sobered up to find myself shivering, sleeping-bag-less and still in my lederhosen to the sound of traffic on a surprisingly busy residential road. Despite an expectation that sooner or later one of the cars that slowed as it passed would prove to be the police, we somehow made it till morning unarrested.
With an early start, Monday involved an entire, horrible day in a car where total focus was required just to keep myself from puking. A late booking of the channel tunnel, and delays once we got there, meant that I missed the last train home, stayed at a friend’s and had to ask my sympathetic boss for an extra day of work before I returned.
(click read more for the Analysis section)
So here are some of the victories from the weekend for the TH method:
- Getting into the tents twice (with a dose of good fortune)
- Getting served (thanks to a kind stranger’s advice)
- Getting on to a table
- Not knowing what was coming next added to the fun
- An attitude of confidence seemed to attract opportunity and good luck
- Not paying for the tram (arguably beneficial but definitely immoral)
- Renting the car without foreign travel cover (again questionable)
- The relatively cheap price of accommodation
And here are some of the defeats:
- Sleeping on the roadside because no one booked the Sunday night
- Drinking 8 pints and getting a hangover from night one
- Missing my train because the channel tunnel was booked too late
- Operating on virtually no sleep
- Going without enough water
- Writing off two days because of the duration of travel
- Some people never experienced the tents (without which Oktoberfest isn’t the same)
- If you got lost and your phone died then it was game over and you had to find your way home alone
- The big lesson here is that trusting your own judgement on the fly is smart, fun and easier than thinking everything through beforehand…WHEN you have a few backup plans
- However, when the information is good, the value of preparing in advance can add so much more value that it’s ridiculous not to take advantage of it (decide to go a year ahead, book a table in a tent, flights ideally and accommodation as early as possible)
- In short, backup planning is the advantage of a more spontaneous approach whilst preparation of the big things in advance can add a huge amount of value when it’s based on good information, advice or experience.
(click read more for summary)
A Recap: The Two Methods
- You gather information before going into an environment (either through research, advice of prior experience)
- You use that information to make choices
- The choices either work out well or they don’t
- Almost all the time, they work well if the information is good
Pros: reduction of uncertainty, reduction of the need to deal with uncertainty, better results when the information is good and the environment is predictable
Cons: can limit the ability to exploit last-minute opportunities, hiccups and errors can result in major stress and disappointment, can crush spontaneity / fun / excitement, initially effort / time expensive
Educated Guesstimating (The Thomas Hunter Method)
- You guess based on what makes sense and on what you know at the time in a way that covers your downside risk.
- You either get away with your guess and get what you want OR you don’t and a ‘slightly-worse-case-scenario’ ensues.
- You then continue to guess until one of your solutions comes good.
- IDEALLY, the information you take from experimenting with what works out or not informs future decision-making.
Pros: opens up possibilities, makes things interesting and exciting when decisions come off, allows you to take calculated risks without needing everything to go perfectly in order to have a good time, requires less effort and preparation
Cons: you have to be willing to accept a sometimes extremely low standard of solution, spontaneity is often expensive in terms of time / money, involves a calculation of risk that is often woefully and dangerously uneducated
The TH method = Educated Guess + Confidence (commit to the guess) + have backup plans
Preparation = Spend time / effort beforehand + make sure the information is good
Obviously, in our day to day lives, there will be ways that we can combine both approaches. Too much planning and preparation leaves you vulnerable to being disappointed if something goes wrong or doesn’t work out as you expected. Too much blagging rolls the dice on the standard of the solutions to the problems that you will face.
Based on my experience of Oktoberfest (and of similar trips, tasks and events) planning works best for the big, important things. Where you are going to stay, how and when you are going to get there and back, how you are going to get into the tent and get yourself a table. These are the kinds of things that most people would want to know in advance of travelling all the way to Munich for a busy beer festival.
Everything else is pretty much up for grabs. Unless you’ve been before (as most of my companions had) or know someone who has (a friend of mine is Bavarian) then you’ll have to do an awful lot of educated guessing about a whole host of different things. And guess what? That’s what adventures are about!
noun: adventure; plural noun: adventures
1. an unusual and exciting or daring experience.
“her recent adventures in Italy”
synonyms: exploit, escapade, deed, feat, trial, experience, incident, occurrence,event, happening, episode, affair.
2. excitement associated with danger or the taking of risks.
“she travelled the world in search of adventure”
synonyms: excitement, exciting experience, thrill, stimulation;
If you wake up every morning and you know where you’re going to eat, exactly what you’re going to do and exactly how you’re going to do it, then don’t expect to have a huge amount of fun.
Somewhere in the balance between organisation and uncertainty there is adventure. With a pinch of preparation and a bit of blagging, Oktoberfest would be as good a place as any in which to find it.
Photo Credits: Gareth Womble, Iain Wilson
Have Your Say
Which of these 2 methods do you prefer?
How do you balance the benefits of both?
Let me know with a comment below or by emailing Foolosophy@peteburnett.net