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Decision Making Lesson 1

Decision Making Lesson 1: Do You Need to Make One?

Perhaps the first decision making lesson we should learn is, do we really need to make a decision? There may be times when not deciding can be the best option. This is not the same as deferring a decision, just because it’s difficult or uncomfortable. ‘Not deciding’ is not a procrastinator’s charter!

Nor is it the same as deciding to do nothing. This can be a legitimate outcome from a proper situation analysis. However, deliberately waiting to see if a decision needs to be made is an equally valid approach. Making an unneccesary decision can do more harm than good. Below we offer two insights on this important decision making lesson. Not our insights. They come from sources far more famous…

Decision Making Lesson: Is a Decision Really Necessary?

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Peter Drucker likens making decisions to undergoing surgery. Both are interventions which carry with them positives and negatives. Using either may bring about improvements but they also bring side effects. Just as surgery carries with it the risk of shock, decisions made in organizations may have serious consequences which might not have been foreseen.

Unnecessary decisions therefore, should not be made any more than surgeons would perform unnecessary procedures. Generally surgeons decide to operate when a condition is likely to degenerate if nothing is done. Drucker argues that similar judgements should be made in business.

If a business situation is degenerating, or if an opportunity arises which needs to exploited, then a decision needs to be made. However, it may be that we need to remember the old adage: “if it’s not broken don’t fix it!” After due analysis and consideration, try asking two questions:

  • Do we need to make a decision yet? If the answer is no, there may be nothing wrong with deferring a decision.
  • What will happen if we don’t decide yet? If the answer is “nothing bad” then perhaps no decision is best. If the answer is “something undesirable” then a decision does need to be made. If the answer is “we don’t know”, then perhaps more information is needed or it really is time to take a risk.

Decision Making Lesson: Give It Time To Go Away!

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Perhaps one course of action is to think about the words of a different kind of philosopher. He’s maybe not as eminent as Peter Drucker but he’s arguably as famous. Think about one of Charlie Brown’s approaches to decision making….

Linus: If you have some problem in your life, do you believe you should try to solve it right away or think about it for a while?

Charlie Brown: Oh, think about it, by all means! I believe you should think about it for awhile.

Linus: To give yourself time to do the right thing about the problem?

Charlie Brown: No, to give it time to go away!

In certain situations this may be exactly the right thing to do. Some problems do go away and no decision is the best decision. Patience, as they say, is a virtue. When faced with a decision making situation, perhaps learning to be patient is also a decision making lesson.

However beware of oversimplifying this approach, or of the temptation to adopt it as a default! Most situations will require a decision, then action! In the words of another great, fictional, philosopher, the master Jedi, Yoda: “Do or do not….there is no try.”

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You can read further about Drucker’s approach to decisions in this Harvard article: The Effective Decision.

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