Making Decisions

One of the reasons why I am against micromanagement and why I advocate the need of proper corporate governance structures, in any business, is ultimately so that as much as possible it is ensured that the right decisions are being made. Yet on a daily basis, I hear a number of so called “wisdom myths” from business leaders, which in my opinion only serve to harm our ability to make decisions and decrease the chance of making the correct ones. The most common of these “wisdom myths” are:

I want to be efficient – So that means that you just jump in and make a decision. But to be truly effective, you need to be clear on what you are trying to solve. Rushing can lead you to make a decision based on the wrong factors, which ultimately will lead you to regret your own decisions.

I need to solve this problem NOW, as I cannot think on anything else. This is the classic example of “losing the forest for the trees.” All problems sit in a context. A narrow focus may solve the wrong problem, or only partially solve the problem. So make sure to take a 360 degree view of the problem and the various repercussions from the potential solutions to the problem.

This is my decision alone; I don’t need to involve others. Oh my…. if only i could get paid every time I heard business owners or senior managers say this. Most important decisions do involve other stakeholders. Avoiding the bigger picture of who else is affected by a decision can, at best, only partially solve the problem, and may exacerbate it.

I know I’m right; I just want data or an opinion to confirm my own thinking. Many business leaders or owners come to me thinking I will say what they want to hear. That is rarely the case. It is known as “confirmation bias”. This is a very common and major decision-making flaw, whereby information or data that does not confirm your beliefs is ignored, instead of helping you raise the red flags and revisit your conclusions. To better understand and define the limitations of what you think you know, look for contrary examples and evaluate rival explanations. These techniques can prevent “frame blindness” to keep you from seeing what you want to see rather than what may be present.

I trust my instinct when taking decisions. It’s great to rely on your instincts when picking the colour of your shirt. But for larger, high-stakes decisions, when you rely on our gut, you are really relying on your bias and faulty memory. Important decisions benefit from prying open cognitive space to allow for new information and insight.

Waiting for feedback only wastes time. Good decision-making is circular. It needs a feedback loop as we gather information and analyse it and our thinking. At times we need to go back to find information we’ve glossed over or to gather new information or conduct a different kind of analysis. Feedback is important.

I just need to keep all information and thoughts in my head. Large decisions are made up of multiple smaller decisions. When we try to keep all of those moving parts in our mind, we end up relying on a faulty memory and a distracted mind. Our emotions can also get in the way, leading to biased thinking. Keeping a record is an important part of thinking and analysis. If both Albert Einstein and Leonardo da Vinci kept notebooks…why shouldn’t you?

I have all the information I need. While we may want to forge ahead, we can improve our decisions — and our satisfaction — by investing in a little bit of research and confronting assumptions with evidence. Looking to the experts, which does substantive research, can help you make an educated decision that’s also right for you.

I can make a rational decision. Psychologists far and wide, such as Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman, have demonstrated that as much as we’d like to believe it, none of us are rational. We all operate through a dirty windshield of bias based on past experiences and feelings.

There’s just one way to do this – MY WAY. Well well…this tops them all. I get this mostly from the older generations, especially business owners who have been managing their family businesses for decades and used to take decisions on their own. I have news to you. There is more than one way to go about doing things. For many years business owners are conditioned to not listening to other voices and siloed in their information. The more business owners and leaders get outside their routines and patterns, it will help them challenge themselves and possibly to see things differently.

So, where does this all leave us?

Underlying all of the above “wisdom myths” are three common and popular ideas that don’t serve business leaders at all:

  • Since we are busy people, we don’t need to invest time to make good decisions…..we can just jump the gun and take decisions.
  • We are rational human beings, able to thoughtfully solve thorny and high-stakes problems in our heads.
  • Decision-making is personal and doesn’t need to involve anyone else.

All three of these assumptions are false — and problematic for clear thinking and analysis. We are not computers. We are social beings. We need time for reflection, an ability to confront unconscious biases or to consider the bigger picture. One way to combat these biases is to put a speed bump in our thinking — a strategic stop to give yourself time to pause, to see the whole picture, and to reflect on what you are experiencing. Slowing down can help improve efficacy by steering you away from your reliance on these decision-making myths and reflexive behaviours. Hence the need to pause.

In decision-making, too, quality thinking benefits from periods of thoughtful deceleration. These calculated pauses empower you to check and challenge your biases, consolidate your knowledge, include others and enable you to decide whether to pivot and move in a new direction or stay the course before accelerating again. Here are some questions to ask yourself in these pauses:

  • Which decision-making myths am I relying on to make this decision?
  • Are my feelings related to this decision based on what’s actually happening or do they reflect my learned patterns of behavior?
  • What information is out there that could help me make this decision better?
  • How can I better understand the perceptions and perspectives of others involved in the decision?

The next time you’re speeding towards a decision, remember you have the option to pause and value the benefits of taking a strategic stop. This vivid cue can help you see past the decision-making “wisdom myths” and beyond the multitude of biases that you normally rely upon. This will in turn improve your decision-making skills. Which is why having the right corporate governance structures, where things can be discussed, challenged, different views brought together is so important. When we work in silos, we just kick away the huge power and potential to arrive to good decision making.

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