Tuesday, March 9, 2010

What's The Best Way To Make Careful Decisions?

Good decisions are rarely made carelessly. So there's an intuitive logic behind making careful decisions, whatever climate of decision making might prevail at the time.

In this era of flux, one characterized by many practitioners and pundits challenging existing principles in search of new and more reliable wisdom, this subject of intuition vs analysis and their relative value in decision making is highly topical.

In our view, the issue is rooted in a timeless theme of management science: the issue of thinking vs feeling in decision making.

The idea of using feeling in the context of decision making makes many people uncomfortable which is why intuition gets a bad rap. Emotion is associated with a lack of discipline and robustness in analysis (with good reason to some degree). The fact that intuition cannot be attributed to a specific place, to a linear, observable, concrete set of facts also makes it an easy target. Intuition cannot be explained. It emerges or not.

This character of intuition raises the other main driver of discontent that emerges with reliance upon it: the lack of control. Management needs to be confident it can replicate results, to assure the effective use of resources and ultimately the return to shareholders.

Which leads us to the underlying human issue in play here, which in my view is trust. Decision making begets responsibility and accountability. One feels no better having put that trust in the hands of so called 'experts' whose predictions and recommendations prove subsequently to be wrong than in an internal capacity which transcends tangible analysis and which cannot be explained.

Sound use of intuition depends on sound judgment, itself a product of experience and the right kind of reflection. As with any tool, erudite use comes from knowing how to use it and when. And when not to. This I believe, cannot be taught nor prescribed and in part sustains its immense value among those practitioners who do it well.


The topic was a provocative one shared in the Working Knowledge Bulletin by Harvard Business School by Profession James Heskett. The Full article appears here, and inspired a lively disucssion among a dispersed community.

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