Applied Decision Science Tackles Tough Problems

We make decisions every day—some more significant than others. Regardless of whether we’re deciding what to eat for lunch or if we should quit our jobs and travel the world, each decision we make is based on a series of thoughts and processes that ultimately lead to a course of action. These thoughts and processes are of interest to Applied Decision Science (ADS) in Dayton, Ohio, which applies naturalistic decision-making principles to companies’ most significant challenges to help them develop effective solutions.

“Organizations that are hung up on a particular challenge come to us to help develop solutions. Our understanding of human decision-making lets us consider the root of the problem and look at these challenges from a different perspective. Whether it’s a hospital looking to diagnose more efficiently or the military looking to communicate key mission information, we deep dive to help improve their processes,” said Laura Militello, CEO at ADS. “Applied Decision Science is really an idea generator around issues that frequently have high societal impact.”

The company was co-founded by Militello and Steve Wolf, VP of Finance, years after the two served as research assistants at Klein Associates learning under the mentorship of Gary Klein, a pioneer in the field of naturalistic decision-making. The discipline was coined by Klein, a behavioral scientist who noticed that traditional decision-making frameworks break down in demanding, real-world situations marked by limited time, uncertainty, high stakes, etc. In the face of extenuating circumstances, people are prone to irrational or distorted decision-making.

Klein is a co-founder of ADS and advises Militello and Wolf, whose clients typically include firefighters, military and health officials, and other organizations that routinely make critical decisions under strenuous conditions.

ADS’s first spin-off, Unveil, uses augmented reality training to help combat medics quickly recognize and react to critical conditions such as airway obstruction. Important cues such as changes in skin tone or decreased mental status are difficult to depict using even the most sophisticated training mannequins. Unveil, with support from state and federal grants, is developing a virtual patient that integrates with physical mannequins to help medical professionals better learn the symptoms in question and ultimately make an effective, life-saving diagnosis.

“This is hopefully the first of many for us. We’re just infinitely curious as to how we can improve decision-making, which is why we’ve structured Applied Decision Science as a vehicle to find interesting problems to study, and then see whether or not there’s an opportunity to do a commercial leap-off from that.”

ADS is a member of one of Ohio’s largest and oldest incubator programs, Cincinnati’s HCDC, a southwest Ohio regional partner of Ohio Third Frontier. At the incubator, ADS has access to office space, a vast network of fellow entrepreneurs, mentorship, and reliable, affordable high-speed internet. HCDC also provided ADS with early investment that helped the team get its company off the ground. Wolf believes resources like HCDC and major research institutions like the Air Force Research Laboratory in Dayton, coupled with a reasonable cost of living, make Ohio the perfect place for their business.

“I think that the climate for Ohio startups is better now than it’s ever been, and you’re seeing that with the number of companies that are starting and scaling in the state,” said Wolf. “I’ve started a few businesses and I think the overall national economic climate is increasingly positive, but the level of support in Ohio is noticeably favorable with resources in every region ready to support the growth of new companies. This has me very bullish on our ability to generate new breakthrough technologies in Ohio.”

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