How to Decide Right

Make the Right Choice

On a flight out of London the other day, I picked up an insightful piece in The Telegraph by UK broadcaster and founder of, Martin Lewis, OBE. He highlights the difference between a bad decision and a bad outcome. Often, he suggests, we beat ourselves up about a bad decision because the outcome was bad. But there is a flaw in this linkage of decision to outcome. Often, he argues, we make perfectly good decisions but they turn out poorly through no fault of our own. Imagine for example, Lewis writes, that you take on a bet where heads will make you $100 and tails will lose you only $1. Taking on the bet is not a bad decision, it's a good one even though there is a 50% chance that the coin lands on tails and you lose. If in fact it does land on tails, your loss does not invalidate the sagacity of your decision to play. It is important to accept that not every right decision will have a positive outcome. What then are the elements of a "right" decision? Let's assume that your decision is as informed by data and the experience of others as it could reasonably be. What other factors make up a "right" decision? There are three: i) Clarifying the reason why you want to do it; ii) Checking your intuition; and iii) Aligning your intuitive mind with empirical information.

The Reason Why

First check the true reason for your decision, what is motivating it? Are you doing it for self-preservation or self-promotion, or are you doing it in the service of something bigger or higher than you? Is the intended action designed for self-service or the service of others (from which of course you may well benefit as we usually do when we add value to others)? Is it a defensive reaction to something someone else has done, or is it a carefully chosen proactive choice? Does the decision reflect your own values or is it a triggered response to the behaviors of others? When a decision is made for the right reason it is usually a right decision, irrespective of the short-term outcome.

Intuition and Instinct

With all its limitations, intuitive decision-making has a place and a power. People make decisions that affect not only their own futures but possibly the future of many others and perhaps even the course of history. The decision to marry is often made purely on intuition with little regard to data. Intuitive decision-making is a natural method of making choices and can be a reliable one. "Drawing on recent advances in psychology and the decision sciences... intuition may indeed facilitate rapid and effective decision making in organizations..... The more unstructured a problem, the more advantage an intuitive approach has over rational analysis" [1] Viktor Frankl claimed that rational analysis can only inform us about an approach to a situation that has existed before. When, however, we face a new situation, intuition is the preferred tool to use. Bob Samples[2] writes of Einstein that he: "... called the intuitive or metaphoric mind a sacred gift. He added that the rational mind was a faithful servant. It is paradoxical that in the context of modern life we have begun to worship the servant and defile the divine." In many organizations, fear and intellectual cowardice drive people to only make decisions that they can back up with data. No one loses their job for making a rational decision based on good data even if the decision goes south. But when a decision goes wrong, try explaining to your boss that you made the decision based on a "gut feeling!" The result of covering our backs in business decision-making by avoiding intuitive choices is we eliminate a range of good options that only the power of intuition could identify. Decisions based purely on data are likely to mimic our competitors' decisions because they have access to the same data. Increasingly we lose the distinction of being unique. I am not encouraging "gut" decisions. Gut decisions are instinctual rather than intuitive. It is important to differentiate intuition from instinct. Instinct is designed to protect you from danger; its role is not to identify exciting opportunities that may entail risk. Often, your instinct will urge you to shy away from an opportunity because it senses danger. Intuition, on the other hand, can identify opportunities that the rational mind could miss. Intuition can encourage you to proceed with an idea about which you have little or no data. To help make sure you are accessing your heroic, intuitive mind and not your fearful instinctual system, take some quiet, uninterrupted time before you make your choice. Read something spiritual or very beautiful. Meditate or reflect on a beautiful scene. Think of the values that are most important to you and of the person you ideally wish to be. Consider what you consider to be your highest purpose in life. Then, quietly ask yourself how you feel about each option, or how you feel about your decision generally. Carefully focus on any sensation in your chest (not your gut, that's where instinct resides). The slightest discomfort there as opposed to even the slightest positive or neutral feeling, is your intuitive indicator. Trust it.


Having checked the reason why you are making the decision and how your intuitive mind responds to it, try aligning your decision with facts and data. If there is no alignment at all, you had better go back to the drawing board. If, however, there are facts to substantiate the decision you wish to make and it is supported by your intuition and higher self, go ahead with confidence. Does this guarantee the outcome you want? No. But it does guarantee the right outcome. There is a difference.   [1] Erik Dane & Michael G. Pratt, (2007). Exploring Intuition and its role in Managerial Decision Making. Academy of Management Review, Vol. 32, P.34. [2] Bob Samples, The Metaphoric Mind: A Celebration of Creative Consciousness Jalmar Press; 2 Sub edition (August, 1993)  

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