Tech & Work

Snap decisions may be the best ones

What's the best way to make a decision? Take your time and think through all your options and their consequences and then decide or go with your first reaction? Sometimes snap judgments can be best.

What's the best way to make a decision? Take your time and think through all your options and their consequences and then decide or go with your first reaction?  Sometimes snap judgments can be best.

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The decision-making process can sometimes be an arduous task. As with everything, you start off identifying a problem. You lay out all the options that will address the problem.  You create criteria for evaluating the options. You apply the criteria to the options and rank order them. You hold meetings with other stakeholders to get their views and opinions. Based on the meetings, you may add or subtract options, reweigh criteria, and reevaluate. You do this over and over until you finally come up with a decision, which you then implement.

This is a tried-and-true way of getting to the bottom of a problem and making sure that you've fully scoped it out along with the benefits and drawbacks to the potential solutions. Ultimately, the hope is that you come up with the best solution that stands the greatest chance of success. But is it the BEST way to come to a decision? Not necessarily.

What's the alternative?

The obvious alternative to a well-studied decision-making process is to go with your first instinct. Assess the situation quickly and then react based on your knowledge and past experiences. Drawing on them, you can often come up with a decision that often parallels what you would have come up with had you dwelt on it.

This is usually only successful when you have plenty of past experience and knowledge to go on. Sometimes sheer instinct can be useful as well, but most of the time it isn't. However, as a long-time IT leader, you probably have been through enough stuff that you know what to do when problems strike. You may not know consciously what to do, but it will come to you when you need it.

How realistic of an alternative is just going on instinct?

It may not seem to make sense that you can be successful by just going on instinct to make decisions, but there's science to back it up. As a matter of fact, science has proven that we've already decided what to do before we're consciously aware of it and before we take any action at all.

Beyond that, scientist have done experiments to detect whether intuition really works. What they discovered was that hunches are most often correct when anticipating the outcome of a game based on prior exposure to it.

One of the scientists involved in the experiment said:

"This might now provide an explanation why we often base our decisions on intuitive hunches where a certain option somehow feels right," says John-Dylan Haynes, a cognitive neuroscientist at the Bernstein Center for Computational Neuroscience in Berlin, Germany.

"But we shouldn't be worried that we could be influenced against our will by such unconscious processes: the study shows that the unconscious brain is intelligent enough to select the best options."

Merging instinct and bureaucracy

Many times the decision-making process in organizations makes rapid decisions next to impossible. You can still take advantage of rapid decisions if you're in an organization that is overcome by red tape by playing the "game" properly.

You already know what you want to do and how to do it. It may be as simple as narrowing the options for the bureaucrats' sake and presenting alternatives that point primarily in the direction you want to go. You may not speed up the ultimate decision by doing it this way, but you may at least cut down the amount of time you have to spend on decision making on your end of the process.

The bottom line for IT leaders

In some cases, you'll get the same results to a problem whether you carefully study all the alternatives or just go with your first reaction.  Although you might not want to go around making snap decisions on a regular basis, you shouldn't be afraid to go with your gut on occasion. Trust your experience and instincts — you'll save time and get the job done at the same time.

If a decision "feels right," often it will wind up being right.

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