In an increasingly agile world, how can we make the best decisions with limited information?
Leaders do not always have the luxury of time when making a critical business decision, yet research shows that quick decisions are often remarkably solid despite time pressures. Here are six strategies for coming to the best conclusion in a non-ideal situation.
Consider why you must make a prompt decision now. What is the most pressing problem, and what do you need to have happen as a result of the decision? If everything worked out the way you hope, what would be the outcome? Don’t get too caught up in a detailed list of pros and cons, because inevitably, some listed won’t be as important as others. Recognize that every option will likely have a downside as there is rarely a 100 percent perfect decision. You simply have to do the best you can with the data you have available at the time.
Envision how your decision will play out immediately, and how it will play out down the road. Understand your organization’s short and long-term goals and evaluate your decision in relation to both of those. Suzy Welch's 10-10-10 method is one way to employ this strategy: think about the implications of your decision 10 minutes from now, 10 months from now, and 10 years from now!
If you are uncertain about the best path forward, can you test the impact of a particular decision on a small scale? For instance, can you implement a new process in a single department, or company-wide for only one month? Trials give you an out if a decision isn’t working, and also provide opportunities to modify your approach based on feedback.
Seek out those (either inside or outside your company) who have been in a similar situation and probe them about their learnings. You might also ask the opinions of those who will be directly affected by the decision, and those who are truly impartial. The more perspectives you can get, the better informed your decision will be. However, in order to protect yourself from analysis paralysis, don’t leave your inquiry open-ended. Instead, commit to a concrete decision after collecting points of view for a specified period of time.
According to the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, we tend to apply the lay theory that “a quick choice is a bad choice.” Because leaders often operate under time pressure, larger sets of data are likely to entail a more cursory selection process than smaller sets of data, generating a feeling of having rushed the evaluation of the alternatives and heightened regret.
But in his book, Blink, Malcolm Gladwell says that snap judgments have gotten a bad rap. Research has shown that human beings are actually quite good at thin-slicing, or making a quick assessment of situations based on very little information. Understanding the innate human bias to second-guess fast decisions and the reality described by Gladwell might help you to feel better about your choice.
There are very few business decisions that have truly dire consequences if they go bad. Is anyone’s life on the line? If not, try to keep things in perspective and don’t freak out. Chances are, the outcome won’t significantly impact your life one way or the other, and leaders who keep a cool head instead of succumbing to stress reactions are more likely to make better decisions.