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Make choices by defining what’s important
Make choices by defining what’s important

The art of making better decisions

In order to make the right choices, managers need clarity of purpose and a way to determine the value of their options. BERNADETTE MCCLELLAND explores the decision-making process – and why indecision can be paralysing.

It was a very simple question between two very simple options – should I have the carrot cake or the friand?

I chose neither, and it had nothing to do with calorie counting. In fact, I don’t actually know what it was that made me so uncertain.

This rattled me, the fact that I couldn’t make the decision. The choice should’ve been simple and insignificant and it got me thinking about the millions of decisions we make – or don’t make – every single day, minute by minute.

There are decisions that we don’t think twice about, and decisions that cause us stress and confusion.

What causes this indecision and how does it impact our businesses, our roles and even our lives?

What are the decisions we aren’t making that, if we did, would catapult us off in a different direction?

The value of comparison

Fear is said to stop people making decisions. From a psychological standpoint, it creates procrastination and paralyses people from acting; however, what if you don’t feel afraid of anything but you’re still indecisive?

Many decisions come down to a comparison or choice between two items, activities or pathways – left or right, red or green, the carrot cake or the friand?

When we compare one thing with another, it gives us contrast and we can assess the value of one thing against the value of another.

"The science behind decision-making tells us that our ‘gut’ plays a huge part in our selections. Sometimes a choice “just feels right”, doesn’t it?"

Would you travel half an hour to save $20 on a pair of shoes that cost $80 or would you drive half an hour to save $20 on a pair of shoes that cost $200?

You’d probably choose the first option. Why, though – $20 is $20, isn’t it?

Yes, but one is a 25 per cent saving and the other a 10 per cent saving. We base the value of what we save against the actual cost and a saving of $20 seems more valuable in the first example.

Providing a second example gives us a reference of value, the contrast that enables us to decide.

Intuitive reasoning

How do we know the real value of something if there are no items or options for comparison?

The science behind decision-making tells us that our ‘gut’ plays a huge part in our selections. Sometimes a choice “just feels right”, doesn’t it?

The other component of decision-making is in our ‘head’, the rational part of our brain with its headquarters in the prefrontal cortex. Once this area is fed enough information, it tends to dominate the gut – logic kicks in and a decision is made.

For years, decision-making has relied on fact-driven, logical data collection; however, strong leadership today relies on both the head and the gut, especially in this ‘connection economy’ or what some call the ‘imagination era’. Here’s why:

  • If we rely wholly and solely on our gut, we are prone to being too emotional and going off half-cocked. That’s when we can make mistakes.
  • Similarly, if we rely too much on our head, wanting things to be perfect, we may miss an opportunity.

In this volatile and fast moving world, we don’t have time to gather all the information we need to make decisions that are 100 per cent factual.

If we do, we’ll miss the boat so we need to make decisions intuitively but also smartly – not too fast, not too slow, just right!

We can’t fall to pieces over which cake to have, just as we can’t delay decisions in our day-to-day business operations. Responsiveness is key.

Defining what’s important to us goes a long way toward helping us clarify the issue we need to decide about. We can make more informed decisions when we know what we want – and why.

Having a purpose or outcome in mind also contributes to decision-making, as it becomes another data point.

Finally, for us to make an informed decision, we need those ‘gut feeling’ comparisons to help us assign value to each option.

So why did I have so much difficulty choosing between the carrot cake and the friand? As it turns out, my decision was not which type of cake to buy, but whether to buy a cake at all.

I chose not to purchase and it was a purposeful and informed decision. Both literally and figuratively, it really was a gut decision!

Bernadette McClelland

Bernadette McClelland is a keynote speaker, executive sales coach, and published author. Learn More:

Ellendale Diamonds Australia

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