Photo by Jens Lelie on Unsplash

By: Shane Bender

How to Make Decisions

In the book “The CEO Next Door“, one of the four traits of successful business leaders is decisiveness. They make decisions and adjust course quickly. These leaders make mistakes and sometimes big ones, but they learn from them. So then, how do we make good decisions? How do we make them quickly? If you lead an organization of any size or to desire to one day, making decisions quickly is essential. Recently, I have been faced with some important decisions in my business involving clients and priorities. These decisions affect revenue, profit, and services I provide. Also, these decisions spill over into my personal life as they affect the time I spend with my family.

Throughout my life, I have relied heavily on the trusty pro/con list to make decisions. The problem is that I sometimes can get as many “pros” for a decision as “cons”, and this changes depending on the mood I am in. Also, I have made a number of bad decisions in hindsight after using this methodology. What do we do? Is there a better way?

In reading “Creating Great Choices“, I discovered five key takeaways to improve decision making.

1. We are Blind

We are blind to our blindness. We have very little idea of how little we know.” – Daniel Kahneman

Have you heard how when there is a crime and the police interview the witnesses, they get very different stories of what happened? Malcolm discusses this in his book “Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking“.

The world is very complex, and we tend to simplify the complex. We make decisions on autopilot without putting much thought into them. Our habits, energy level, willpower, and even the time of the day make a difference.  On top of all that, we are biased based on our experiences, teaching, and perspective. Reality and our perception can be very different.

What do we do then? It is important to first recognize that there are multiple perspectives, and we don’t know everything. We also need to be aware of ourselves. When are we the most alert and aware of our biases? When do we perform our best thinking?

2. Empathy beats Pride

“People tend to overestimate their reasoning ability, just as they overestimate their leadership skills, sense of humor, and driving ability”. – “Creating Great Choices“.

At first, I felt that this was a very negative statement, but when I thought about it more, I realized that there is much truth to it. Let’s take driving for example. We always get upset when someone cuts us off or we get behind a slow driver. We can’t see the whole picture and might have been zoned out when we cut someone off five minutes earlier.

The solution is empathy and to seek to understand others. Our decisions have to consider the perspectives, experiences, and desires of everyone involved. Malcolm Gladwell says, “The key to good decision making is not knowledge. It is understanding. We are swimming in the former. We are desperately lacking in the latter.”

3. Be Creative

Creativity is not just for artists. It’s for businesspeople looking for a new way to close the sale; it’s for engineers trying to solve a problem; it’s for parents who want their children to see the world in more than one way.” – Dancer and Choreographer Twyla Tharp.

Making a decision is not necessarily about choosing between one of two known options. Maybe there is an option that is not known or has not been tested yet. Here are some unconventional thoughts from “Creative Great Choices“.

  • Don’t discount bad ideas because even those ideas have a seed of something great.
  • “Thinking outside the box” is overrated. Instead, use all the resources and ideas available to create new ideas.
  • Making a quick decision without thinking is a bad idea. Give yourself space and time to think. It isn’t about taking forever, but it is more about simply creating space.

4. The Best of Both Worlds

I mentioned before about creating a Pro/Con List. What if we created a Pro/Pro List where you simply listed the pros of different and opposite decisions? Yes, a negative for one decision is sometimes the positive of another one. Once you have all the positives for each option, then create another list that combines the positives of both decisions. The third alternative would be the best of both worlds. Now, it will take some convincing of others. You will need to consider all perspectives. At the very least, it will provide clarity of what you and your team really want. Consider asking questions like:

“Who matters to the decision?”

“Who has to support the new answer?”

“Who is most affected by the choice?”

5. Take Responsibility

A few years ago, I was part of a discovery project to build a data warehouse and reporting system that would bring all the data together, save time, and add significant value to our clients and to the organization. After hundreds of hours of interviews, meetings, and presentations, this initiative was squashed by the leaders at the parent company. I remember blaming politics and bureaucracy. Ultimately, I was just one manager way down the line of managers. What difference could I make?

Ultimately, we need to take responsibility. We all have control over how we tell and visualize the story in the most effective way. I am not saying that everything rested on my shoulders.  I am just saying we could have always done better at understanding the competing ideas of others and better at explaining how we were meeting other perspectives as well as adding value to everyone as a whole.


Making decisions is a life learning process and is not simple by any means. The goal is to continually improve and learn from our mistakes. We must understand our weaknesses and learn from other perspectives. With more empathy and less pride, we can develop a creative decision that takes the best of the best choices. Ultimately, the decision will have some flaws, but we will take responsibility, assess, and adjust when necessary.