A Historical Anecdote of Good Judgement

Source: Harvard Business Review Published: January 2020

Source: Harvard Business Review
Published: January 2020

A Historical Anecdote of Good Judgement

Circulated: January 22, 2020

Good judgment is an interpretation of evidence that points to the right choice. People with good judgment are skeptical of information that doesn’t make sense.

In 1983 Soviet lieutenant colonel Stanislav Petrov was advised that satellites had detected a U.S. missile attack on the Soviet Union. Petrov decided that the 100% probability reading was implausibly high and did not report the information upward, as were his instructions. Instead, he reported a system malfunction.

“I had all the data [to suggest a missile attack was ongoing]. If I had sent my report up the chain of command, nobody would have said a word against it,” said Petrov in 2013.

It turned out that the satellites had mistaken sunlight reflected from clouds for missile engines. In this moment, Stanislav Petrov used good judgement.