Perhaps my father didn’t like me, because he raised me to be a Chicago Cubs fan. And since I’m a slow learner, by the time I realized the futility of being a Cubs fan, I was stuck; there was no switching teams.
So now, every time I go to the friendly confines of Wrigley Field, I enter with the hope of a Cubs win. Sometimes I just know deep down inside that they’re going to win.
It usually only takes a few innings to bring me back to reality. I realize that that gut-feeling I had for a win was really only wishful thinking.
Wishful thinking as a sixth sense
I see that type of approach in the business world too. Managers develop what they consider a “sixth sense”. Someone presents them with an opportunity or an issue and instead of looking too deep into the details, the manager trusts his intuition. He makes a rash decision and goes for broke.
Like my visits to Wrigley Field, sometimes the manager gets lucky and things turn out alright. In baseball, it’s pretty black and white. Either you win or you lose. Business decision outcomes aren’t as easy.
A manager who makes a bad decision based on limited information can pass the blame to someone else or paint the outcome to be better than it is.
Good decision making though, requires more than going with your gut. A good manager goes through a somewhat methodical process to ensure he or she has done the due diligence to make a good decision.
Avoiding wishful thinking
A good decision making process involves the following steps:
- Investigate all options. Brainstorm with others to make sure you have considered several ways to address the issue. The obvious solution may not always be the best. Sometimes it turns out that a combination of ideas is the best solution.
- Consider benefits and risks of each option. Some decisions have rippling effects on other areas of the business. Analysis should be done to consider undesired effects to other business units.
- Determine the likelihood of risks occurring. Once you identify as many ramifications to each option as possible, try to determine how likely those things are to happen. This can help direct you one direction or another in making your decision.
- Get input from trusted people who understand the issues. Good managers know that they don’t know everything. Getting advice from trusted colleagues and direct reports can provide new perspectives you may not have considered.
- Make an informed decision. Finally, when you have considered all of your options and judged each one on its merits, it’s time to make the decision.
- Admit when you’ve made a bad decision. Even after careful analysis and doing all of your due diligence, everyone is capable of making an incorrect decision. When that happens, it’s best to recognize the error, make corrections and move on. It’s about getting it right, not being right.
Popular advice is to follow your instincts. That advice may apply in some situations, but your gut feel should be tempered with good research and analysis to make sure that your instinct isn’t simply biased with wishful thinking.
Unless you’re watching baseball; then just follow your heart. And wait until next year.
If you would like to learn more about working in consulting, get Lew’s book Consulting 101: 101 Tips for Success in Consulting at Amazon.com
As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms.