• Priya Venkatesan

Imperfect decision making


We live in a world where, the number of decision making points that we need to address, on a daily basis, has exploded. Its mind boggling to such an extent that some business leaders chose to wear the same colour outfit everyday to reduce one decision making point.


Considering the volatile environment we face in business today, there are new challenges that we encounter in decision making:


Reducing validity of the decision

A decision by definition is a conclusion reached after consideration.

The challenge we face in decision making today is that the conclusion we reach does not have reasonable validity with respect to time.

Decisions of today are adapted, changed or annulled tomorrow.

So a decision remains well thought out, only at /for a given point in time.


Choice between two negative or two positive alternatives:

Decision making between two negative or two positive alternatives is usually the hardest.

As one grows in the corporate world surrounded by constraints, one finds that the decisions one has to make increasingly fall under this category.

Should I bid for this project or the other one?

Should I reward this good team or the other good team?

Should I prevent schedule slippage or resource overrun?


Given this scenario, my clients do bring up decision making as one of their points of discussion frequently.


Holding an observer perspective in these conversations, I sense that the stress in decision making comes from one of the below aspects:


  • There is a search for the perfect solution which is more boolean in terms of ‘Right’ or ‘wrong.’

  • There is an expectation that a ‘good solution’ will have no negative consequences.

  • There is a hesitation in making a decision right after taking it.

  • Decisions are expected to be fool-proof.


Respecting the fact that some decisions could mean life or death, and are very important, we can chose to live with stress in those cases.

However a sizeable number of decisions don’t belong to that category and experiencing stress is optional.


Barack Obama, the former President of United States of America, when asked about tough decision making had said the first step in making a truly tough decision, is to be comfortable with the fact that you are dealing with probabilities and not to get paralysed thinking that you are going to solve it perfectly. The Bin Laden raid was a 50/50 call and the banking crisis 55/45 call.


We can all borrow from his experience. He mostly made decisions on "unsolvable" problems as he always quips.


With machines slowly taking over all logical straight-forward decisions, we are going to confront tough decisions even more frequently. So what awareness serve us better to take such decisions without stress?


  1. Sometimes people believe that not taking decisions helps them. On the contrary, not taking a decision is also a decision and has consequences. So paralysing oneself with the decision making process or being indifferent to it , serves no one as there are no moments we don’t make decisions.

  2. Data based decision making is good and recommended. But we may not always get 100% data or the data we have may not be accurate. Yet decisions have to be made. Thats where the ability to work with probabilities of success is crucial to handle uncertainty and ambiguity.

  3. Getting multiple perspectives from people better than you and holding seemingly conflicting positions at the same time is an art to be learnt.

  4. There could be negative consequences of a right decision. Sometimes we have to live with it.

  5. In certain situations, we may just have to take a decision and make it right instead of waiting for a “right” decision.

  6. Humility to know that one may not always take the right decision is important.


What have your learnt from your decision making process?


#coaching #leadershipcoaching #decisionmaking

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