Decisions, decisions…. by Stephen Walker of Motivation Matters


Sherlock Holmes was renown for his ability to follow logical reasoning to extraordinary lengths. He said “when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth..”.

It is an uncomfortable feeling to move beyond common sense and into the highly improbable. The ability to make the right decision is a critical factor to success.

We all make decisions, hundreds every day, and the better those decisions the more success will reward us. This doesn’t mean we should pontificate on every decision, although you probably know people who do.

Part of decision making is to actively manage the process to make sure you are using the appropriate methods for the situation.

In short, decision making is a skill. You need to understand the fundamentals and practise applying the decision making process. This article describes two dozen “not tos”.

There is no prize for scoring more than twelve! The prize is the invitation to my “Making the right decision” workshop. Link here to the details.

My Idea

Common sense usually serves up the facts in any decision.

Unfortunately the “facts” are something we believe are fact. Our prejudices create our facts. The best way to avoid uncomfortable “facts” is to have a closed mind. Closed minds favour decisions that start with “You can’t…”, “It will never…” or “Don’t be stupid!”. The “facts” are treated as inviolate.

It is interesting to see the reaction to the recent CERN experiment that appears to show sub-atomic particles travelling faster than the speed of light. This is not possible under Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.

Journalists are saying Einstein was wrong in that case.

Einstein would be pleased, I am sure, to find that his theory, which provided such valuable insight, has finally been shown to need refinement at the very least. Theories are not facts, but useful models that may change.

No time

Decision making happens in real time. Sometimes we need to make snap decisions or the decision itself is irrelevant. Each decision has its own rationale and appropriate response.

Delegation is a good way of avoiding decision overload. My working clothes are a business suit: an easy decision to make every morning.

When I worked for a US company they introduced “dress down Fridays”. Trying to decide what to wear at 6am on a Friday was a disaster. So I opted for a standard “dress down” uniform and the problem was solved.

Sometimes decisions are needed and the time does not allow a proper process. Awareness of the risks of a bad decision allows us to choose between the obvious least bad decisions.


The very opposite of “no time”, procrastination allows us to revel in the slack we have and avoid making any decision.

We may want more information and indulge in fact finding.

We may feel a fear of making the wrong decision. We may realise there are known unknowns that we want to research.

There are always reasons to procrastinate.

Worked before

I see repeated examples in business of people applying the same solution that worked before.

It is comforting to make a decision that had a positive result in the past. To a large extent it is a knee jerk reaction and allows action without thought. The current decision situation may be significantly different from previously.

Fortunately, these knee jerk solutions are not going to be accepted from rank and file decision makers. Their bosses will stamp on them pretty quickly!

The “was invented here” solution is the remit of the very senior person.

That the logic of the choice of solution is beyond lesser mortals reinforces the senior’s sagacity. Perhaps the decision was better delegated to someone with the time to examine the facts. But important decisions get passed to the top don’t they?

Come too far

You don’t have to look far to see projects that have wildly exceeded their cost and time estimates.

We like to point at Government idiocies but the private sector has its own share if we are honest.

Sometimes we continue with the project because we would look stupid if we stopped now.

Often there is a lack of knowledge, a lack of fact, about what remains to be done to complete the project.

Monsters can lurk in those dark shadows and the last 10% of projects often take as much time and resource as the first 90%!


There was a great advertising campaign in the 1970s: “Nobody got the sack for buying IBM”.

The meaning was that while IBM may not have been the cheapest their product was a safe choice.

Research into the attack on Pearl Harbor in World War Two discovered clear intelligence that the attack was imminent. It wasn’t the accepted thought though so the warnings went unheeded. (Previous article here)

Relying on group behaviour, the logic of the crowd, is comfortable and easy. And you’ll never get the sack for doing what everyone else does: right?

We are sucked in to groupthink because it is obvious, everyone says so, and it must be true!


Not wildly far removed from Groupthink is fashion.

A celebrity says something and it must be true. “You’re fired” is now part of the UK management-speak and is regarded as the right thing to do(?).

There is a fashion for being not old fashioned, for being hardnosed and for being firm. Those attributes may or may not be relevant to the decision, using them pollutes the thought process.

Of course we all know that e-business is the answer and blogging great tool.

Solution overload

A decision may have a vast array of choices of solution.

A strategy here would be to choose one that is good enough and get on with more important things.

If the decision needs to be well chosen then it should be delegated to someone with more time.

Sometimes the decision making is important and the wrong decision could be dangerous.

In this case advanced decision making techniques are needed, not procrastination, to make the right choice.


Two dozen things to get wrong in decision making are enough I decided.

I do not recall being taught decision making in my science and business academics. It is a critical factor to your success, your next promotion or your happy life.

We learn decision making by trial and error. Decisions often involve problem solving so there is a link to creativity and innovation.

To discover how to, book on my “making the right decision” workshop follow this link.

Happy deciding!

© Motivation Matters 2011

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