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Is it possible to make objective decisions?

Do you think you make objective decisions?   Most people are adamant that they do, but I am becoming more and more aware of the influences that move me in particular directions, and am working to be more structured in approaching final decisions.

It constantly amazes me how many people honestly believe that any decision is better than none, and that changing your mind is a sign of indecisiveness and weakness.   Frequently, decisions are made based on the current information at hand, and when more becomes available, people believe it is too late to change direction.   Sometimes it is, lets face it, once a rocket has launched, new information can't bring it back, but there are many, many times when a decision is manipulated by interested parties, and the final decision maker believes that he will look weak if he goes back on his word, in spite of knowing that an alternative might very well be a better option.

It is true, though, that slow decision making can hamper growth as well as cause huge frustration, as we are an impatient bunch when the decision isn't ours to make, nor to bear the responsibility for failure.

No easy solution, but I find my best decisions are made when I don't jump in or get pressured by the lobbyists.   One of the best things about working at +Accsys is how passionate everybody is about the client experience and the products.   It is also one of the more challenging aspects as we tend to get quite intense and want to solve problems instantly.

Objective decision making should be a daily business objective.

Not always attainable, but always top of mind.

Without getting too deep into the psychology side, reading about confirmation bias has made me work harder on my objectivity and try to recognise my prejudices and subjectivity when making decisions. These range from hiring employees, purchasing (or personal shopping, much as I would prefer to just buy without analysing my motives) to dealing with bad debt and sales negotiations.

The 4 Card Test

Peter Wason coined the term confirmation bias and developed the 4 Card Test which indicated that most people will select the information that confirms their belief rather than the information which could contradict it.   When making objective decisions it is therefore critical to look at the issue from all angles, and get input from people who might have a different set of values and decision making criteria.

A major blow to objectivity is that we believe that success breeds success, and failure therefore has to breed failure.   And we look to confirm this prejudice which can set people and projects up for failure before they even start.   However, when we study some of the world's most successful people, they have risen from failure over and over.  Abraham Lincoln is a great case study for this.

Of course, we have to learn from history, and we need to address reasons for failure, but we should never assume the continuity of failure.   We often learn more from the things that go wrong than from the things that go right.   However, when making decisions, we regularly assume that if something went right, the underlying processes must have been correct.   Confirmation bias has kicked in, that's what we want to believe.

Objective decisions require a calm, cool, analytical approach and should include:

  • Gathering as much information as is possible
  • Analysing the information
  • Confirming whether any of the decision makers have skin in the game ie will they benefit personally from the decision?
  • Weighing up the alternative options
  • Selecting a path and then
  • Communicating the decision and the reasons behind it, so that all the stakeholders are on board.
  • Developing a contingency plan if the decision turns out to be less than ideal.
If possible, there should always be a Plan B, not to be a fence sitter, but for deeply practical reasons.

“I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.”
Thomas A. Edison

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