Decisions, decisions…

A company I work with just asked me for my tips on decision-making. Here they are:

Are you in charge of the decision-making team? In which case, do not let them know what you think – unless, of course, you’re always right. The team instinct is to conform to the leader’s wishes; it takes a genuinely brave individual to stand apart from them. In articulating your own initial preference, you will stifle the expression of alternatives.

Never make decisions when you’re angry. It stops you thinking straight (watch any post-match live TV interview with the manager of a losing Premiership football team, for reliable reinforcement of this truth). If something has made you angry, the best thing you can do – both for yourself and your business – is say: ‘I’m sorry. I am too cross to think about this now. I will return to it tomorrow, when I am back to my usual self.’

If a decision you take causes shock in your team or workforce, you have failed to spend enough time talking about it before taking it.

How important is time? There are tasks in which ‘later – but perfect’ trumps ‘sooner, and basically OK’: painting the Sistine Chapel ceiling, for instance. Is that your line of work?

If you are deferring a decision, ask yourself why. Will an additional week’s sales data, or another 50 completed questionnaires, or whatever, really inflect the alternatives facing you? Or is it just that you don’t like any of those alternatives?

Are you taking too many decisions? You may be withholding responsibility from those below you, who should be permitted more latitude. Or you may be failing to coach them, to give them the confidence to get on with the job.

Betting the farm? If a decision has serious financial or organizational implications, write your future history: a ‘pre-mortem’. Ask each member of the team to imagine that they have greenlighted the project; that you are one year in; and that it has been a total disaster. Ask them to write down, in 15 minutes on one side of paper, what caused the catastrophe. Then read them all out. Your team will intuitively know all the weak points in the proposal and the organization. At worst, this will provide you with a ‘risk register’ for the project if you go ahead.

This tip is included in the best book on decision-making I have ever read: Daniel Kahneman’s ‘Thinking, Fast and Slow’.

Data, not prejudice. When Bob Dylan said ‘Don’t think twice, it’s alright’, he was not referring to your feeling that you should raise your prices, because your product is more valuable than people seem to give you credit for.


Years ago I worked as chief bag-carrier for the MD of a public company – David, now Sir David, Arculus, at Emap plc. In my first week in the job, he asked me what I thought the secret of his success was, and, not waiting for my thoughts to collect like hairs in a plughole, answered his own question: ‘Because more than 50% of the decisions I make, turn out to be correct’. At the time, in my innocent youth, I thought he was being absurdly modest.  I now realize he was simply speaking the truth.

So – if more than half your decisions are right: congratulations! You’re doing a great job.





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