Decision-making - By reasoning or instinct?

Who is better - an indecisive individual with an Einstein level intellect or a decisive individual with an average intellect?

4/5/20243 min read

a pole with a bunch of signs on it
a pole with a bunch of signs on it

It is not every day that one takes an important decision of life. A decision that has the power to change the course of one’s own life as well as the lives of uncountable others. There are only two routes that can be taken to arrive at such a crucial decision. One is the logical route of evaluating and debating all the pros & cons of the decision and the other is the unconventional route of ‘going by the gut feeling’. The former takes considerable time whereas the latter takes only a few seconds. ‘Which route is better and which one is not?’ is a question that can only be answered retrospectively. Hindsight, however, is not always kind to the decision maker and the consequences of his / her decision, irrespective of the route taken. Things can go both perfectly right as well as horribly wrong in both the cases. This post explores these routes and the approaches taken by people to analyse the outcomes.

When the first route is taken, owing to the gravity of the situation, the general tendency is to stall the decision as much as possible and invest time in researching all the aspects of the situation. Expectedly, the majority of us fall into this category. Life changing decisions like choosing a career path, marrying, switching jobs, planning to raise a family, investing money in big amounts, etc. are a logical fit for this route. If the research has been conducted in a thorough and impartial manner, the decision finally taken usually turns out to be a profitable one. This is also true for the decisions taken at a much higher level, viz. running costly / critical operations, choosing governments, merger & acquisitions, declaring war, etc. Despite the detailed analysis, at times, the consequences for both individuals and organizations are unfavourable. Analysis paralysis, missing the broader perspective, and inefficient or inaccurate research are the primary reasons for the dismal outcomes. Nevertheless, the ratio of successes to failures is significantly high, whereas the ratio of outputs generated (tangible or intangible) to the inputs put in (money or man-hours), is moderate to high.

The second route of ‘going by the gut feeling’, for the logic driven, is merely a gamble or the roll of a dice. It is just a figment of imagination of the lazy or the fickle-minded. Nobody, including the decision maker, is aware of the logic behind the decision as well as its bearing on the stakeholders. Or, does it just seem that way? Haven’t we all come across people who possess an uncanny knack of taking important decisions in a short time, based upon what they think is right and, more often than not, they are right. We certainly have. There are people who take critical life decisions based on their gut feeling. A few of them have even established business empires & made a fortune by following this route. The risk is there and hence the ratio of successes to failures is low. However, when the decision hits a bull’s eye, the ratio of the outputs generated to the inputs put in, is unimaginably high.

So, which one is a better route to take? The answer is both as well as none. Both, when a decision is made either on the basis of a thorough research or on the basis of a strong gut feeling driven by a desire to make the decision work at all costs. None, when it is based on a shoddy research or a gut feeling driven mainly by laziness or a reluctance to research. Such a simple explanation, however, is found unsatisfactory by the observers after the outcomes of the decision are available for debate. Everyone turns into a self-anointed expert and with the astuteness of a seasoned judge, passes his / her verdict on the decision. All sorts of statistical, technical and sociological analyses are done to pick up a side. The decision maker is put in the witness box and with the aid of hindsight; corrections that could have been done in the original decision are yelled at his / her face. Bizarre, but it's true. We love passing judgements but run away from decision-making. We have excellent hindsight, but little foresight. We love to criticize, but often snap at criticism. We all want to analyse but detest scrutiny. We are, in summary, so very human - so is the decision maker!

There is no right or wrong decision. Instead, it is the consequence that is good or bad. A ‘seemingly’ correct decision can lead to disaster due to so many other uncontrollable variables, while an ‘obviously’ poor decision can lead to important inventions and discoveries. The decision-maker, though responsible for the decision taken, is just one of the variables in the equation of decision-making and deserves the least of public criticism, unless his / her intentions are, from the outset, evil. Until such negative intentions are proven or the consequences turn out to be exceedingly awful, he / she should be left alone or, at least, allowed to prove his / her innocence. Making a good-intentioned decision that leads to an unsatisfactory result is a million times better than indecision. At least, the decision-maker has the guts to take a call and try!