In his book The Design of Everyday Things, the cognitive scientist turned engineer Norman Davies coined the term ‘Forcing Function’ to describe a physical constraint that is built into the design of an object or system to interrupt the steps required to use it. For example, a child-proof cap on a pill bottle or a microwave oven that won’t start with the door open.
Forcing functions are an exception to the rule of good design that using something should be as intuitive as possible. A forcing function interrupts the user’s intuition to prevent them making an error. It makes the user pay attention to what they are doing so that they do it well.
Good decision making has forcing functions built into it.
We need to pay attention.
We need to stop the momentum of our minds and constrain them from taking flight or starting a fight as a result of our prejudices, biases, distractions and even instincts that so often lead us into error.
This doesn’t come naturally. It needs to be forced.
Examples of forcing functions in decision making include:
Forcing functions in design lead the user to make a small mistake in order to prevent a bigger one.
Mistakes in decisions are the same. They are a form of forcing function in the larger design that is our life.
Mistakes compel us to pay attention. To pause, rethink and make another decision that moves us closer to where we want to be.
Good decision making needs the forcing function of mistakes.