The Art Of Decision Making

by | Nov 3, 2019

It is believed that decision making is an important trait of leadership.  The ability to make decisions is an indispensable characteristic if one intends to lead in any way. We all take big and/or small decisions in our everyday life, right from the beginning of a day, by choosing what to wear and which kind of meal to eat. 

As per Ernst Pöppel, a German psychologist and neuroscientist, we make around 20,000 decisions everyday, most of them at lightening speed. Even the choice of not taking any action, or letting others decide is a decision. Some of our decisions show their results after a long time. For example, choosing which subjects to study, what courses to opt for, may seem enjoyable in the beginning but we may think about it differently after a few years. The common idea of tying it up with career and jobs also affects the way we look at it in hindsight. On the other hand, wearing a suit for a party may show immediate results by receiving appreciation from friends. It’s not always easy, and not everyone is blessed with the ability of taking quick decisions, as and when the situation demands. We all have friends who are extremely indecisive and those who are great at it. Whether it’s about choosing a dish from a menu card at a restaurant or buying clothes from a ton of choices, they clearly know what they need; and then there are those who take forever to arrive at a decision, at times by consulting everyone possible. I wonder what are some of the factors that play a role here. 

The first thing is clarity of thought. Here, I’m not talking about the quality of decisions. Whether they’re right or wrong, is a secondary concern. What happens with people who take their own sweet time? Are they unclear, or their process is different, or both?

You can only make decisions when you have choices. At the same time, too many options cause trouble. At the grocery store, by the time you reach cash counter, you have a couple of extra items in your cart. This is called Irrational Buying Decisions where you didn’t plan to buy these items but you did so impulsively. Scientists call it Monster Choice Dilemma when your brain gets paralysed with abundant choice.

Decision making becomes even slower when we have to make informed choices. A lot of time is spent in comparing pros and cons, of each choice. Sometimes, we don’t know when to stop analysing and hence, a deadline becomes necessary to proceed. Many leaders trust their gut but Steven Johnson says that the decisions taken on gut feeling, fall in the whether-or-not category. A person confronts a situation and thinks of a way ahead but the decision is made thinking whether to go for it or not. On the other hand, there are people who try to filter out the best way ahead from various options available to them. They use the what-if approach. It undoubtedly demands some experience and imagination to think of future consequences and is also time taking.

“One thing a person cannot do, no matter how rigorous his analysis or heroic his imagination, is to draw up a list of things that would never occur to him” – Thomas Schelling.

Experts recommend different techniques for efficient decision making. One of them, also the most common, is going through the Pros and Cons list. Many of us do it consciously and subconsciously. Personally, I never even bothered to think about the process of decision making but the fellowship year has compelled me to do so, specially as I realised that I find it hard to arrive at decisions. Several factors delay the process, such as:

  1. Incomplete or false information at hand: A lot of times one tends to wait for more information unknown of the fact that it may not be there at all or may become available only when the first step is taken.
  2. Emotional trigger or noise: When you are internally convinced about something just because it feeds your emotions. In such cases, you are not in a position to process information rationally.
  3. Confirmation bias: This is the tendency to look for, interpret and decode the given information in a way that affirms one’s prior beliefs or hypothesis. The idea is to find only those bits and pieces that are supportive.
  4. Influence: When you have to make a decision and it is to be approved by someone in a position of authority. It means that you are not completely free to take it. Balancing your own will and others’ expectations takes time.
  5. Rush or hurry: The decision making process gets paralysed when you think that it needs elaborate discussion and thought but there’s no time for it. It is then rushed which may lead to a different outcome.

Identifying the above factors has been helpful for me, as I now know what could help and work on it accordingly to overcome the challenges. You may also find out what hinders you as only then, it can be overcome.

Half Half None

Half Half None

The following blog has been co-written by co-fellows Daraab Saleem Abbasi and...

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