How do you make Good Decisions?

We all like to think we make good decisions but few of us think about what makes a decision ’good’.  Is a good decision one where we get the outcome we were hoping for? Think about how that might happen: If the outcome we are hoping for has a one-in-four chance of eventuating (based on the information we currently know), is achieving that outcome a product of good decision making or sheer luck? Many leaders, who tend towards aggressive decision making, rely on luck a great deal of the time. Smart leaders shorten the odds by using their experience or intuition to know when to disengage from the decision process but even so, they still rely on a degree of luck. (Obviously this modification process tends to be inaccurate when we are dealing with situations or circumstances that we haven’t experienced before).

If you don’t believe that you gamble in your decision making, think about the last time you were deciding which checkout queue in a shop to join. If you have a fifty per cent chance of choosing the fastest queue (i.e. there are two options), you will have gathered data from around you to convince yourself that one will be quicker than the other. If you choose the wrong line did you make a bad decision or were you just unlucky?

Surely there must be a better way to make decisions then simply gambling on favourable (or in some case, unfavourable) odds. An obvious answer would seem to be found in making sure we gather enough data to improve the odds. The reality is that, most of the time - like in the shopping queue, we can’t gather enough data in the necessary time frame to make the ‘perfect’ choice on every occasion. The simple shopping scenario is made far complex when the decisions we are making involve other people. Is it any wonder we struggle in our workplaces, churches, clubs and other organisations to make ‘good’ decisions.

Here is the first part of the answer: The simplest way to improve your decision making is to adopt a good process. A good process is the best measure of a good decision regardless of the amount of input you have or the outcome you achieve. A good process will inevitably take into account the inputs and possible outcomes but it is a truer measure than either input or outcomes in isolation. Although there is a great deal written on this issue in the world of academia, real life experience shows that it is rare for us as individuals or organisations to have adopted a ‘decision making process’. Today might be a good day to gamble a little less and process a little more.


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Steve Ingram