Decision Making Dilemmas

This is a “straw dog” posting. How do we make quick responsive decisions while being sure that we are doing the right thing? Straw dog: gut vs. analysis.

In my general consulting practice I help clients with their decision dilemmas and one that I come across frequently is:

“How do I know I am doing the right thing if I decide quickly?”

My sarcastic reply is:

“How do you know if you are doing the right thing if you take time analyzing before you decide?”

The dilemma is the trade-off between speed and quality. If speed is the priority, then we are taking on additional uncertainty and risk (U&R) by not considering more thoughtfully some critical aspect of our decision: important overlooked information, options, unintended consequences, etc. If being thoughtful is the priority then we are taking on additional U&R because we are not taking advantage of being quicker: opportunity is missed, another option comes into view and the decision is further delayed, etc.

I have observed people making decisions by choosing to analyze forever. The decision they make again and again is to wait and see. This has worked for them and they habitually repeat this approach. So even if it is not to our taste, it is a legitimate option. Where I get frustrated is when they bemoan the unfortunate consequences of their decision (foregone enjoyment from use, missed earnings, etc.).

I have observed people making decisions that strike me as rash and even impulsive. Where this is a habit, I find these people bemoan the consequence of becoming “exposed” (financially, relationships, overbooking, etc.)

In myself, I observe (after the fact of course) that I have done both: waited too long, acted impulsively. I have tried to get better over time and this is the approach I have worked at making a habit of.

  1. Understand ahead the consequences of acting too quickly and slowly
  2. Assume I will be wrong and decide on which set of consequences I am most comfortable in living with
  3. Decide on how best to avoid the consequences of being wrong (i.e., move from assumed certainty to gaming the system for consequence avoidance)
  4. For the quick decision choice: What single principle can I use to make the 80% probably right choice? If I were to add a second principle to improve the odds, what would that be? Make the decision on the basis of best fit.
  5. For the get well informed about decision choice: What information is the most important to know about that will help me narrow the options down to no more than three? What second type of information will help me narrow the options down to two? What third type of information will help me discern a preference between the remaining two options? Go get the information, then sleep on the outcome for no more than one week.

Sometimes a decision is binary, but we just can’t decide no matter what we do with the steps outlined above. Here the dilemma is one of will I make the right choice.

A solution that has worked for me is to reverse the decision choice: Which decision, which when I make it will turn out to be wrong, will I be most comfortable in having made?

I have used this three times since I discovered it for myself and it has always worked.

A third technique that I have used when the choices have been qualitatively different where the being wrong selection won’t help is to take one of the choices an verbally say out loud “I am choosing to … option …” to someone else and listen to whether I can say it in a natural straight forward fashion. I have found that if I can’t do this, I am really preferring the other option; or if I can, then the verbalized option is the better choice.




About 123stilllearning456

As a management consultant I am passionately interested in talent management and risk/uncertainty issues. In the area of talent management I propose that we seek strategies that look beyond the staffing/employee centric frames of reference. I have been frustrated at the "closing down on possibilities" by these more conventional staffing/employee centric approaches. I have been impressed where people have found systematic solutions to their talent management issues by going beyond the conventional approaches. In the area of risk and uncertainty, I am interested in making this topic relevant to more normal decision making situations. My conceptual foundation is to use the micro-economist's fixed/variable cost theme. I also think it is important to look at these issues for people through their emotional and psychological lens. As a premise I think risk and uncertainty only exist where there is a person who cares about possible events and its consequences. Hence, risk and uncertainty are social based concepts (no sentience, no risk and uncertainty). A major influence on my thinking in this area is Nassim Taleb of "Black Swan" fame. This BLOG provides me with an opportunity to express my thoughts on topics that interest me. As this is an online diary, content is more important to me than polish. I apologize if this distracts from readers' enjoyment and learning. Still I find this a useful way to live up to my namesake, learn more from others and hopefully provoke creative thoughts and ideas in others.
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