Making decisions with too much data is just as difficult and risky as making a decision with too little data.
There are ways to be logical and move forward in either case.
With too little data, you may want to step back and list or mind map the missing pieces. Which of them are critical, which, if known, would lead to very different answers, which can be discovered before moving on, and which would have little impact and are not worth pursuing. Then you can seek out or make estimates on the missing data noting, as you move forward, what needs a comment or footnote.
With too much data, again you may want to organize what you have into categories, perhaps with sticky notes you can cluster on a board or on a mind map. It’s important to be able to see the big picture all at one time. Then you can highlight, circle or bring to the forefront, the groups that will impact results the most. The others can go on an imaginary parking lot or into the background so you can focus on the most important without distractions.
In neither case, too much or too little data, do you want to feel so stuck that nothing happens. Doing nothing is a decision, too, but one that happens to you instead of by you.
Have you ever made a decision and then immediately started to second-guess yourself? You likely kept going back over the problem and how you solved it and then began to have doubts.
Or maybe you developed a great solution to a work problem only to find that your associates and boss don’t see it your way and you can’t figure out how to convince them with your logic that you can see so clearly.
If you have been following my writings and speeches for a while you know that decision-making is one of my main topics. I work with groups to help them sharpen their decision-making thinking and their tools for explaining their results.
I just finished reading “How the Wise Decide” by Zeckhauser and Sandusky. They spent years researching the subject by interviewing great leaders. In a sense they have given me proof to quote for the methods I have been advocating for some time. This should give you extra comfort in applying these techniques.
I definitely recommend the book.
The authors culled the principles into 6 main categories.
Go directly to the source yourself. Even though the leaders they studied ran very large organizations and had tremendous responsibilities, these leaders said that instead of taking all their information filtered through their reports they felt the need to gather some of their intelligence directly from the source, the customers, suppliers, or others.
Seek out people who will not be afraid to tell you that you are wrong. Use advisors with enough diversity of backgrounds and thinking styles to allow you to see your topic from several different viewpoints. These leaders wanted to see and hear opinions challenged (but not personal attacks).
Treat risk as one of the parameters to be compared not something to be avoided. Also very interesting: reward good decisions even when the end result doesn’t work out. We can’t know which is the best decision out of alternatives but we can compare and choose good decisions. Openly discuss failures and missteps to learn from them, not to blame. When I was in direct sales I sat down with my manager and team to go over what I had done to try to win a sale and what had gone wrong. We could all learn from my mistakes instead of descending into denial.
Keep the organization’s vision front-and-center. Make decisions based on whether or not it moves the organization closer to the vision
“Listen with purpose.” My expression is to “listen for meaning.” Both descriptions help you focus on what is being said in a way that allows you to understand and paraphrase back.
Be transparent in leading your organization. Share how and why decisions were made. Challenges, vision, and mission guide the leader as well as everyone else in the organization.
One more point I would add, the best decisions are not one-time unique situations but are made up of a series of smaller decisions that are part of an overall strategy.
If the number of emails I get on the subject of publishing, including publishing of ebooks, is any indication of general interest, there must be a tremendous number of people wanting to publish their story. When you have been a knowledge junkie like I have, it makes sense to write it all down and share the wisdom.
Wisdom is different from knowledge. Knowledge is made up of facts, opinions, information, and experiences. The total is valuable and should be shared. Wisdom is the result of applying thought and intelligence to those experiences and information. It is not just regurgitating the data, it is interpreting and discussing and looking at alternative explanations and viewpoints.
For most decisions in life there are multiple good and bad answers. It would be so much easier if there was one right answer and our job was just to figure that one out. Instead we must look at multiple alternatives. We weigh the alternatives with imagining the scenarios of the different potential results. We balance the pros and cons. We check our gut. We compare and contrast to past experiences and results.
None of this process should create analysis paralysis. The more experience you have to look back on, the more wisdom you can apply, the quicker the process can go. Wisdom makes sure you think it through before jumping.