What is Decision Making?

Every day we each make hundreds, maybe even thousands of decisions. Most of our decisions are tiny, almost unnoticeable moments that pass by without notice. We decide whether to get out of bed or hit the Snooze button on the alarm. We choose khakis or blue trousers to wear to work. We select the donut with pink sprinkles over the plain glazed. Most of the time we aren’t even aware that we have made a choice.

That may be okay for small choices, but decision making is a vital part of the change process. Unless we plan to just hang around while life happens to us and our organizations, at some point we will have to make decisions about out future actions

When I sat down to really dissect what decision making looks like, I realized that it is much more complex than it seems I went looking around the ‘net and in business management books and found many tools and techniques for making decisions. This suggests that making decisions is actually quite difficult for most people, despite it being a common activity.

There are many, many definitions of decision making. The common elements that make up a decision among the definitions I have seen seem to be:

  • Conscious Thought. Decision making has to include conscious thought. This rules out actions done through habit or instinct. Breathing isn’t really a choice. In some cases, taking addictive drugs is no longer a choice.
  • Two or More Possible Actions. If you only have one option, you can’t actually make a decision. Ford offered the Model T in “any color you want, as long as it’s black.” There were no other options, so the buyer had no real choice of color.
  • Moment of Selection. For a real decision to be made, you have to select from the possible options. Note that this selection may mean doing nothing or choosing not to decide. However, the absence of action is still a choice. For example, I can choose to ignore my phone – that is a decision in which I make a choice to not take action.

To sum all of these elements up, it seems that Decision Making = Thought + Possible Actions + Active Selection.

Rock Paper Scissors

Rock, Paper, Scissors

One of the obstacles to making good decisions seems to be the overabundance of information and possible choices currently available to us. Other people have written extensively about the tyranny of choice,  the concept that we have so many choices available to us now that we get overwhelmed just buying soap. In many cases we seek out much more information than is needed to make a choice and we end up paralyzed.

For those of us who tend to suffer from analysis paralysis, I have good news. It really doesn’t matter what you decide!

The key to being happy with a decision is to remain committed to the decision that you’ve made and realize that it leads down a road that is just as good as any other. This is easier said than done, especially in business where you might meet resistance at the slightest hint that a decision isn’t working. However, movement in any direction will lead to more and better feedback than just standing still and planning to plan.

Key to Change
As you can see, making decisions is one of the key steps in a change process.

My assignment to you is to take one day this week to practice making as many conscious decisions as possible. When you finish your day, make sure to come back and tell us all about it in the comments!