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Making decisions: perfection is the enemy of progress

Decision-making is not an isolated event. There is a context within which decisions are taken, with a future-oriented outcome to be achieved.

There is only so much input, information, knowledge of risks and time available to make a decision. It is therefore necessary to look at decisions as a "point in time," instead of engaging in endless scrutiny after decisions are made. In hindsight, all decisions will appear as if they could have been improved upon.

Clarity of purpose is important as well. It helps eliminate options that are not aligned with the purpose, and hence take away noise that can cloud judgement.

Then there is instinct. Think of instinct as a well-developed "sixth'' sense that is constantly updated by changes occurring around us. Neuroscientists interpret this as our unconscious ability that is capable of picking up information and processing it faster than our conscious processes. Elite sportspeople and special forces personnel are trained in developing and trusting their instincts, in addition to the physical training. And now, even business leaders seek coaching to utilise their instincts in helping with business decisions.

If clarity, instinct or context are all ticked off the list, will that help in making the right or smart decisions? Well, no and yes! No, because there is no such thing as perfectly smart or right! Yes, because these will help in making decisions, and that's important. In many instances, the decision that is wrong is probably the one which you deferred, delayed and agonized!

The last criteria then, is to suspend the fear of being wrong! Few forward-looking decisions will have a 100% chance of being the "right" one, as there is always something that can prove to be disruptive.

Rather, as leaders, managers, parents or teachers, we must learn to live with and accept the risk that "it could go wrong". We should evaluate the risks of being “wrong” – the costs of being wrong, and the likelihood of being wrong – and compare those with the benefits of being “right” – the benefits of being right, and the likelihood of being right. Then, making a decision with this awareness, this basic calculation, can ease the process of decision making.

What we fail to realise is, that at least in the world of business or politics, there is room for qualification, experience or exposure to inform our process of decision making. But casting our gaze wider, is there any way that someone is "well placed" to take decisions as a parent? Or as a spouse? Or as a caregiver who must decide whether to take their dear one off the ventilator? No training course can prepare us for decisions we must make in life.

So, it's important not to get ahead of ourselves, or bring unnecessary pressure into our decision-making process. In anything we do, we can only go in with the best intention, with the information and risks known to us, and with the time within which we must make a decision. Beyond that, all that is needed is to be kind to ourselves after that decision is made.

Information About the Author

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Nikhil Damle

Catalyst Coach

Nikhil Damle is a Catalyst Coach at Iridium Coaching and Learning and a Technology, Banking and Operations Enterprise Executive with 20 years experience in these combined domains.