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What is a Sanity Check?

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A sanity check is a back-to-basics validation that a decision, calculation or condition has some chance of being correct. It is possible to become so involved in a complex decision, calculation or procedure that you miss something completely obvious that invalidates your result. A sanity check doesn't check that something is right, just that it is somewhat reasonable. The following are illustrative examples.


A professional is offered a job at a firm and thinks for an entire week about whether to accept. They consider tradeoffs such as salary, work hours, office location, perks, professional opportunities and stress. She decides to take the job. As a last step, she performs a sanity check by asking herself "does this feel right?" She decides it doesn't feel right because she feels the new firm doesn't reflect her values.


An investor does a compound interest calculation to determine that a $100,000 investment will be worth $755,090 in five years. They perform a sanity check by asking themselves if it makes any sense. They decide the result is far too large and return to find a mistake in their calculation.


The term sanity check is commonly used for basic tests that are run before real tests. For example, a software developer might make sure a new product release is up and functional before releasing it to a testing team.


An aircraft maintenance team does a final sanity check after each maintenance to ensure the equipment looks right, no tools were left behind and that the maintenance procedures made sense.
Overview: Sanity Check
A back-to-basics validation that a decision or calculation has some chance of being correct.
Decision making or problem solving may involve detailed thinking that neglects obvious big picture issues.
Related Concepts

Decision Making

This is the complete list of articles we have written about decision making.
A/B Testing
Abilene Paradox
Abstract Concept
Analysis Paralysis
Analytic Reasoning
Benefit Of Doubt
Boil The Frog
Choice Architecture
Cold Logic
Collective Intelligence
Convergent Thinking
Critical Thinking
Decision Analysis
Decision Authority
Decision Balance
Decision Costs
Decision Fatigue
Decision Framing
Decision Mapping
Decision Modelling
Decision Quality
Decision Rationale
Decision Support
Decision Tree
Devil's Advocate
Disagree And Commit
Divergent Thinking
Emotional Intelligence
Failure Of Imagination
Group Decisions
Keep It Simple
Maximax Criterion
Minimax Criterion
Motivated Reasoning
Non Decision
Normative Model
Opportunity Cost
Paradox Of Choice
Pareto Analysis
Predictive Analytics
Preserving Ambiguity
Reverse Brainstorming
Sanity Check
Serious Game
Strategic Dominance
Thought Experiment
Visual Analytics
Visual Thinking
More ...
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A list of decision making techniques.

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The observation that groups may make collective decisions that are viewed as wrong or irrational by each individual member of the group.

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A definition of reverse brainstorming with examples.

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Devils Advocate

Taking a position that you do not necessarily agree with for the purposes of argument.

Paradox Of Choice

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Preserving Ambiguity

Overview of preserving ambiguity.

Strategic Dominance

Strategic dominance is your best choice in a given situation.

Maximax Criterion

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The definition of indecision with examples.

Group Decisions

A list of group decision strategies and techniques.

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Non Decision

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Decision Examples

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