Decision Making Strategy

“Truly successful decision making relies on a balance between deliberate and instinctive thinking”

– Malcolm Gladwell, Journalist, New Yorker

“If a man does not know what port he is steering for, no wind is favourable to him.”

– Seneca, Philosopher

“Change is not a destination, just as hope is not a strategy.”

– Rudy Giuliani, Former Mayor of New York City

“The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do.”

– Michael Porter, Academic, Founder Monitor Deloitte

“What do you want to achieve or avoid? The answers to this question are objectives. How will you go about achieving your desired results? The answer to this you can call strategy.”

– William E. Rothschild

When was the last time you made a mistake? What did that teach you? Was it even that important? Learning from the past can result in new opportunities.

The biggest room in the world

Regularly working with excellent business people in a consulting role provides the opportunity to ask them to identify the major decision-making mistakes they have made in the last year. Surprisingly, even with a large sample size, many struggle. Yet logic dictates, if we can’t identify failing and weakness, we can’t improve. Often people are too busy, or too proud, to regularly reflect on “the biggest room in the world”: the room for improvement.

This is particularly true of decision making. Why? Post rationalisation allows us to reinterpret the past, and put a fresh spin on it. ‘It wasn’t a mistake, I didn’t make an error, my choice was not sub-optimal. I just did the best I could, and hey, I’m still here. So it sort of worked out’. Yet, if I think about others around me, especially superiors, their failings and mistakes are everywhere and so obvious. We are living in a delusion if we can’t accept that we also have some major and minor areas to sort out, shape up and grow in.

Major and minor

When we think about making decisions there is a spectrum from major to minor. What is a big decision? Deciding who to hire? Making an investment? Pricing a project? Are these major or minor? How about something like deciding to improve posture, or exercise? Deciding each day what time to go to bed or leave the office, and after how much wine? In fact they are all decisions. And some of the minor ones, cumulatively, are much bigger than the seemingly big decisions.

A lesson from the truffles

On the hit TV show Dragons’ Den, two chemical engineers had created a chemical in the lab, which, when brushed against the right tree, in the right soil, should stimulate the growth of truffles. As the grilling began, it turned out that, whilst the truffles were worth their weight in gold, the scientists had never actually tested the whole process. Moreover, there would be no way to protect the truffles from other hunters in an open wild French landscape. One by one, with some derision, the Dragons declared ‘I’m out’. The only person left was Peter Jones. Who, quite surprisingly, suddenly volunteered the £200,000 needed to get involved, and buy the required land in a specific part of France. Once the delighted lab rats had disappeared, Peter’s decision was immediately attacked by his fellow millionaires as very poor. After all, it was a moonshot. Laughing, he said the other Dragons had entirely missed the point. All he had really just done is buy a bit of land in France, that, if it didn’t work out, he could just sell again at no loss. But if it did work out he could make millions. It was all upside! He then laughed at how they had completely missed the opportunity. iw