Thursday, August 25, 2011

3 Tips On How to Make Decisions With Limited Information

Image from: http://blog.ercast.org/2010/09/decision-making-capacity/


"In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing." 
- Theodore Roosevelt 


Life is all about making decisions. We make hundreds or even thousands of them every day of our lives. Some decisions have greater impact than others. Some decisions have greater impact than we realize at the time we’re deciding. Sometimes some of us avoid making decisions and this can get us into trouble.

When I deal with a mentee who has difficulty making decisions or is having to make a particularly tough choice I start to probe. I want us both to understand the underlying cause for this “decision-making hesitation”. A common complaint around why it’s so challenging is that the mentee doesn’t have enough information to feel comfortable making a choice. Sadly, it’s not often we have all the data points we’d like to have before deciding something. Analysis paralysis is certainly not the way to go.

So, what to do?

I’ve found the following 3 tips extremely helpful when faced with this situation. I advise the mentee to:
  1. Go with your gut. - Often times our gut is leaning in one direction and it’s our brain that’s providing an overriding, paralyzing narrative. There is a terrific book by Malcom Gladwell called Blink which is about trusting your initial instinct. It discusses the "mental processes that work rapidly and automatically from relatively little information". If your gut/subconscious/whatever you want to call it is trying to tell you something let the message play out in your mind. Don’t try and suppress it. Your gut is simply another data point for you to consider. The best thing to do is be honest with yourself.
  2. Ask around. Ask for help. Build an Advisory Board. - Maybe you don’t have to make this decision all on your own. Like any corporation go ahead and establish an Advisory Board for yourself and set yourself up as your own CEO. Ultimately the CEO makes the decision but often has the benefit of an Advisory Board that brings additional information and perspective to a situation.
  3. Be comfortable with mistakes – those are opportunities to learn! - The very best tip in my opinion is to have a positive attitude towards making mistakes. I try to impart this idea to all of my mentees: Embrace mistakes because mistakes have a golden gift of knowledge wrapped up in them. If one sees mistakes as an opportunity to better oneself it makes it easier to choose in the first place. There will be benefits no matter the outcome of your choice. This topic alone will be the subject of a future posting.
When I'm faced with a difficult choice I open my mind to my gut, ask around for opinions and look forward to the results of my choice because I know in almost all cases something good will ultimately come of it.

"Nothing is more difficult and therefore more precious than to be able to decide."
- Napoleon Bonaparte

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