A discussion on the value of analysis as a decision tool...not as a decision maker.
We are frequently caught in an illusion in our current business culture. We have come to believe that we can mitigate all risk, know how all things are going to play out, model the future, and assure success. We have come to believe that complex spreadsheets can substitute or supplant all other decision making tools. Analysis has in essence become a sort of insurance policy. Ironically, the recent past has clearly demonstrated that we can’t model the future; in fact models trumped ‘common sense’ and in a great way precipitated the tumbling dominoes of the financial crisis. And this crisis has simultaneously made us so cautious to make mistakes that we are very hesitant to commit to a course of action and move forward.
We stand most days paralyzed by the fear of moving in the wrong direction faced with such uncertainty and what appear to be unprecedented circumstances. We are simultaneously pressured to make a decision, maybe even a “great” decision, and get things moving; a Gordian knot of sorts.
Don’t mistake what I am putting forward, analysis is essential. Knowing what is “knowable” is vitally important. But analysis won’t make decisions and won’t assure success. People make decisions and people, only people, drive success.
As students of business we should recognize that there have been very few “great” decisions made in history. Henry Ford didn’t wake up one morning and decide to create an assembly line. I am sure after years of study, attempts, failures, and what would now be viewed as rudimentary assembly line prototypes we have what became the foundation of the assembly line as we know it today.
Similarly, Bill Gates and Paul Allen didn’t just “poof” jot down the Windows concept and know that IBM’s DOS would become a universal foundation for desktop and personal computing. They had an instinct about what was happening with PC’s and what made sense to them as a migration from green screen and mainframe environments. They had a vision and a passion for the vision. And then they took a huge, unprecedented leap. Any analysis at the time would have said that the only outcome was failure.
If you read the accounts of how we got to where we are on most subjects and what the “deciders” went through to get to the conclusion they reached, you realize that most decisions had three things in common; gut instinct played a big part; there was always an incremental approach of a series of mini decisions that lead to the outcome we know as “the decision”; and most importantly a willingness, courage, and confidence to commit and go “all in” once the decision was made.
Gut instinct is something that is so under?valued and yet scientifically proven to be a very accurate way to make decisions. Malcolm Gladwell, the best?selling author writes in his book Blink a great deal about the various aspects of listening to that voice in your head that tells you which option is best. He further talks about the various filters we have dissuading us from gut instinct, mostly societal or ‘educational’. As you are faced with critical decisions take the time to listen to the voice in your head. And really listen. Not only do you normally have an instinct as to what should be done, but you have a pretty clear unconscious idea as to why it is right.
The thing that gets in our way most often when listening to our instinct is self doubt. What if I’m wrong? What if this results in a disaster? How am I going to explain why I chose the path I chose? When faced with these doubts and concerns ask yourself these questions;
- Do I know my industry and my job and understand the situation? (Probably or you wouldn’t be at the executive level.)
- Have I been in similar situations before and how does my experience apply to this situation? (Odds are you have seen something pretty similar. Maybe the players are different and the surroundings are different but you have been here before. Don’t underestimate the value of your experience.)
- Most importantly, if I am completely wrong what is the worst thing that can happen? (First of all, the odds of you being completely wrong are slim and none. See points one and two above. Secondly, the repercussions are usually not nearly as dire as we think they will be. I used to ask my people if the decision they were making was a ‘bet the company’ decision. If the answer was no, I said, ‘then make it and move on’. So, make your decision and let’s go.)
Secondly, very few decisions are ‘made from scratch’. Most of the situations we approach or are faced with are simply a point in a sequence of a stream of decisions and outcomes that occurred over time. Knowing the history and having a pretty good idea of the market and competitive reactions to the previous decisions usually puts the current decision in context. In 99% of the cases you will find that the weight and gravity of the decision is actually manageable and that you will have multiple opportunities to adjust course once you are in the stream of execution of the decision.
Finally, and most importantly, commit to the decision and the anticipated outcome and then make the decision successful. Back to the concept of most decisions not being “great” at the time they were made. More so, they look great in hindsight because someone worked their tail off to make the outcome of the decision success. Let’s go back to the MS/DOS decision by Gates and Allen. Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, and the other Apple founders were hammering away at the same time on the Apple O/S. We all know Apple is probably better technology. It certainly is easier to use and has reportedly a lot less bugs than Microsoft. Apple has been a resounding success. But not even close to Microsoft. MS/DOS is the big dog on the block. That is simply because the Microsoft team had a bigger vision for their decision, decided to chase that vision, and then relentlessly pursued it and made it a reality.
While a lot has changed in history one thing hasn’t, you have got to want to succeed and commit to it or you won’t. Plain and simple, wanting it the most and being willing to sacrifice the most to be successful is still the single biggest differentiating factor. The evidence and examples are overwhelming.
Your decisions are no different than these cited above, with the exception of visibility and financial magnitude. The factors that drive success are demonstrably more correlated with commitment to execution and success than they are to being right. In most cases there are simply good options and bad options; chose one of the good ones and move forward. Make it a great decision in the final analysis based on your hard work and diligence. You’ll get credit for being brilliant, which is a bonus.
As business leaders our companies and our teams are looking to us to decide. They want to know where we are going, why we are going, why they should commit to the journey, how we are going to get there, and who is responsible for the various aspects of executing the decision. They want to work on something that matters and they want to succeed.
So, c’mon boss, commit to a decision and let’s get moving.
By Doug Wilwerding