Decision Making - Science Or Art?

Author: Pramod Veturi, CEO, International Business

When it comes to decision making, all of us struggle with some types of difficult and complicated choices.

You are a business leader, and you have been asked to execute a redundancy program, and you have to let go of 10% of your teammates. You are conflicted. “How do I decide, what is the right call to take.?”

A couple has a clear roadmap of your life plan. Having a child for the next five years was not in the plan. But the wife gets pregnant. As a couple, what should their decision be? To have the baby or not to have the baby?

You know that a senior of yours is sexually harassing a few colleagues. This person has enormous power and hold over you. Should you report him or not?

How Do We Decide?

Decision-making is part science, part art. There is no rule-based formula to say what is the right decision to take. Decision-making comes into play when we face a set of choices and must choose between one of them. The science and art of decision making is not in the choices but in the ability to intuitively figure out the consequences of different choices and deciding which consequence you are most OK to live with or comfortable with. How each of us processes our choices and decides is a function of our values, beliefs, and personal narratives.

A person who values family will evaluate all choices and consequences with a filter of family.

“If I quit my job and join the new place, what are the benefits and risks. More importantly, if something goes wrong, how will it impact my family?”

Similarly, a person who values career advancement above everything else could view the consequences differently.

“If I quit my job and join the new place, what does it do for my career advancement? How will it impact my career if I do well, and if I don’t do well?”

Having understood what decision making is about, let’s now look at the different types of choices we have to decide every day. Broadly, there are three types of choices we encounter in our life often.

Deciding On Data Or Fact-Based Choices

These are choices where clear-cut information can be evaluated, deliberated upon, and analyzed to understand the consequences of different choices.

Investing decisions, career choices, decisions on the family’s well-being, etc., are typical examples.

Every one of us has our own filter for evaluating the choices. E.g. Someone is a high-risk taker; someone else has low-risk tolerance. How one views the consequences of investing in a particular asset will be based on individual risk tolerance.

Deciding On Moral Choices

Decisions that involve moral choices are again based on the respective moral reference for different people.

For someone, the moral definition of a living being is only once a baby is born, while for someone else, a conceived egg in the womb is a living being. Therefore for someone, abortion may be an acceptable moral choice, and for someone else, it may be an unacceptable choice.

For most people with a strong moral compass, trade-offs in terms of consequences are always binary and reasonably straightforward. Something is Good or Bad and Right or Wrong. 

Deciding On Ethical Choices

Decisions involving ethical choices are more about some stated and unstated rules of engagement within the society we operate in. The consequences of an ethical choice are likely to favor the individual but go against social norms.  

You are a partner for an organization, and you come across some insider information in the course of some work you are doing for the firm. Should you use the benefit of this inside information to trade the stock and make money.

In summary, we all have to bear the cross of decision making all the time. Some of the choices are simple enough and some can get complicated. There is no easy to use playbook for decision making. It is ultimately about how we process the choices we have based on the consequences we are willing to take responsibility for.

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