Rice plate or chicken biryani? Vanilla flavour or butterscotch with crispies? The attractive dumb girlfriend or the brainy plane Jane? Jogging or going to the gym? Professional degree or work experience? Job or business? Fresh blood or grey hair? Stock market or fixed deposits? Your happiness or parents’? Personal life over professional or vice versa?
Life is full of choices that require us to make decisions. Some decisions are minor like the shoe or clothes you want to buy which can be easily exchanged later. Others can be life-altering decisions like the person you decide to marry or the house you invest in.
A decision is simply the choice we make. In fact, our life is shaped by a series of decisions we make in different situations. Our perception of ourselves and the world plays a very important role in the kind of decisions we make. Whether you choose to feel elated in adversity or be miserable amidst abundance is a personal choice you make. The decisions that you make with confidence are more likely to work out in your favour than the ones made in self-doubt.
Decision making can be a simple process once we understand how to go about it. We can add or remove the following components depending on the simplicity or the complexity of the decision you need to take.
Data: The first important thing to do when we face a decision making situation is to gather information. Ask questions till you get to the root of the problem. Understand trends and extrapolate from data available to understand the situation better. If there are any gaps, research a bit and fill them to complete the picture. Many times, data is the sole basis on which decisions are made. For instance, scientific research or sociological surveys about population.
Intuition: This is a valuable part of every decision making process. Gut feel that something will work despite the odds against it can defeat neatly arranged information. Malcolm Gladwell, in his best-seller, Blink, talks about ‘thin-slicing’. Malcolm cites examples from diverse fields to show how the human mind can make decisions based on a thin slice of information that the subconscious mind processes even before the conscious mind can realise. For instance, taking on a fresher for a responsible job instead of an experienced person because of a hunch.
Analysis: Weigh the alternatives. Be an optimist and look at the positive consequences of your options. Also be a pessimist and consider all that can go wrong with your choices. Having a balanced view of the pros and cons of the possible outcomes will help reach a logical decision ensuring lesser errors.
Creativity: Our creativity can bring in a lot more options than are obvious at first. So, think of more possible creative solutions that you can develop for the problem. Thinking out of the box can be refreshing to our thought process.
Resources: It is very important to consider the resources available to follow on the decision made. You can think out of the box and generate unique ideas, but if they can’t be put to practise due to lack of skills or support, the exercise is futile. Resources can be individual skill or sufficient funds to take up a project.
Involvement: Seek help of others who might be able to add value to your decision making. It can be members of your team in the office or your family at home or your friends. They can help by providing more useful data or can add fresh perspective to the situation. A bit of objectivity can be good to truly evaluate the worth of your decisions.
Risks: Be prepared to take on challenges even if they involve risks as long as the facts are right and our intuition goes along. Warren Buffet wouldn’t have been the richest investor if he aimed at making every decision risk-proof. His decisions are based on his sound knowledge of the markets and the well-founded experience. Risks cannot be wished away but contingency plans can be made to deal with them. The ratio of risk you take should be proportional to the gain you expect from it.
Commitment: Once you analyse the facts thoroughly and make a decision, stay committed to it. Changing the decision often robs the whole process of its seriousness. Remember not to get carried away by all the opinions that come to you in the process. You need to keep your head above all that and trust your judgement alone.
How to make your final decision?
Now that you know points to consider to make decisions, lets now look at a few techniques by which you can bring your thoughts together. There are numerous tools and methods available to help you arrive at your decision. A few easy ones are discussed here:
Pros and Cons chart: The simplest way to analyse data by looking at the pros and cons of options available. Pull out a sheet of paper and make 2 columns on it. On one side, write down the positive outcomes of the decision and on the other side the negative outcomes. We can also give a rating on a scale of 1 to 10 for each factor and the total score will give a more accurate picture.
Brainstorming: The most effective technique for ideas to emerge freely. It could be individual brainstorming or group brainstorming. As an individual, sit down in a quiet place and jot down all the ideas that come to your mind about your situation. Writing makes your thoughts concrete and you can always come back after analysis and cancel out the options that don’t work. There are no right or wrong options and at this point and don’t worry about whether an idea is possible or not. Once you are done, explore each idea further to reach feasible alternatives. Make sure you have enough data to make your decision. You will be surprised at the number of possibilities you can generate through this method.
SWOT Analysis: An acronym for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats, this is another technique for in depth analysis before you make a decision. The first 2 represent the presence or absence of attributes in a person or company that aid or hamper achievement of goals. The last 2 denote favourable or unfavourable conditions in the external environment that boost or damage chances of fulfilling the objectives. This will help you leverage the strengths and opportunities while improving on weaknesses and being prepared to handle the threats. You can also be ready for any unexpected events that might upset your plans.
The most important thing that we need to remember while making any decision is that every decision causes ripples in the form of consequences. Choices, once made, control us and not the other way round. The good news is that keeping an open mind can present opportunities to rework decisions already made in life. There are people who gave up lucrative careers to pursue their passion. Some of us aren’t as adventurous and postpone our decisions forever. If a particular important decision needs deeper thought, sleep on it. But make sure that you act before it is too late.
So the next time you need to make decisions, dive for the facts with the confidence that your intuition and creativity will support you. Decision making is not rocket science. A bit of clear thinking with the right tools can help you make only the best choices in life.