Nika Kabiri Uses Science to Help People Make Better Decisions


These days, it’s hard to make the right choices. Not only are they hard to make, but there’s also a lot of uncertainty—even on a good day. So, you can’t usually get all the information you need. As we are full of cognitive bias, our psychologies work against us. Not to mention, we’re also social creatures swayed by those around us, causing us to do things that are not always in our best interest. It’s no wonder why we have a hard time.

There’s a science behind decision making, and if you learn about it, you can get good at it, move forward confidently, and minimize regret. Decision-science specialist, Nika Kabiri studies decision-making and then uses what she knows to help others make good decisions.

Like most people, Nika’s always been fascinated by why people do things that don’t make a lot of sense, or why someone would make a choice that works against their best interests. For example, as a youngster, she remembers seeing grownups discipline their children in ways that simply didn’t work and couldn’t figure out why they kept doing it. Growing up, she continued to see people make choices that didn’t make sense. Her fascination found a home when she studied rational choice theory as a sociologist in graduate school. She studied how people make decisions that shape our social world in profound ways. She also studied how our social institutions and culture can constrain our options and influence our choices. 

“Control is an illusion,” Nika says. “We think we control our choices just because we make them, but we’re often being swayed by forces we don’t even see.” Among these “forces” are cognitive biases and mental short-cuts, recognized by psychologists and behavioral economists. Other forces include social ones, like peer pressure or when people follow the bandwagon. According to Nika, the more aware we are of how our choices are influenced by our psychologies and our societies, the better we’ll be able to make choices that maximize our chances of having a fulfilling life.

Nika’s mission is to share her knowledge about decision making with others so that they can make good decisions of their own and live better lives.  One way she does this is by managing a website called YourNextDecision, where she shares articles and blogs that offer practical advice for people trying to live a better life. Topics on the site include decision-making for relationships, wellness, work, and social justice.

Nika also teaches decision science at the University of Washington, where she helps her students learn about better decision-making. She applies a lot of what she teaches in her classes to the content on her site. 

Another way Nika helps people make better decisions is through her business consultancy, Kabiri Consulting, where she helps business professionals make decisions that impact the growth of their businesses and their personal careers. Kabiri Consulting was born from the idea that business and professional success stems largely from making the right choices, and yet business schools – and schools, in general – don’t train people on the science of decision-making. She helps clients in two ways: by using analytical and statistical methods that help her clients clarify their end games, options, and tradeoffs, and by acting as a referee and calling foul whenever her clients seem to be headed for a decision-making pitfall, like employing a cognitive bias, or hopping on a bandwagon. 

Nika also uses academic research on decision-making to help her clients understand how customers and consumers might be making purchase choices. She also conducts her own consumer research on behalf of clients to uncover hidden motivations behind their decisions.

Decision-making is hard, but with so much research on how it can be better, there’s no reason why it can’t be easier. Nika’s point of view is that we can’t always get what we want, and we won’t always make perfect decisions. But the more we learn about human nature and the social world, the better we’ll be able to navigate our way through life through better choices.