# 306: Decisions
Story behind the Passage
Last night, I listened to a pretty powerful lecture by an experienced consultant and advisor. The topic was decision-making. Of course, that is a huge topic because life is all about making decisions every single second. As he also made clear, and that is something that we tend to forget or not see quite often, is that life itself is a decision. Yes, you are given life as a gift, no matter who you think gave it to you. But actually living life to the fullest, which also means not ending life voluntarily, is a decision you make every day when you get up. Choosing happiness over sadness is a decision. Choosing poverty over money is a decision.
Deciding not to decide is a decision as well.
And this decision is usually an unconscious one but it happens every day — with some people more than others. If it happens to executives, which is why I have chosen Mintzberg’s book today, it is extremely painful for employees and ultimately harmful for the entire organization. The speaker last night emphasized that by sharing funny stories of how some people have huge trouble even deciding which food to get from the buffet. To make this clear, I am not making fun of people who actually have pathological problems with this. There are mental and even physical reasons why people cannot make decisions (easily). But that is not the case with the majority. And the buffet situation only turns into a problem if there is a long line behind the person not deciding. Otherwise, nobody would care. The indecisiveness would just harm or bother the decision maker. But having a boss who cannot decide is a real problem because there are always people “waiting in line.”
“What this amounts to is ‘soft analysis,’ in which teams of interdisciplinary analysts couple a certain amount of intuitive sense with their more systemtic thinking.” Actually, intuition is something that you can read millions of books about from various academic disciplines. The simplest definition I once heard from a spiritual teacher is simply: “Ultra-fast thinking.” So, intuition, overall, is not “not thinking,” as we sometimes think. Rather, it is thinking plus an inexplicable inner reality check with your gut feeling. It is like your brain and your stomache are having a conference that only lasts splits of a second and then your inner eye adds an image to all this and there you go — there is a decision at hand. It still makes sense to sleep over such an ultra-fast decision but it is definitely something else than just betting on “hard” analysis, to use Mintzberg’s terminology.
So, the thing he suggests is to mix hard analysis with soft analysis, the latter being rooted in less structured, merely rational, thinking. And in this context, I really like how he brings in the quote from Aaron Wildavsky about the “chochem.” The fact that the chochem is considered wise, balances the super creative issue and the “chaos” that might be connected to it. Overall, however, and especially if you pair that chochem with the super analytical and structured people, you will get great results. The question is: How do you get there?
As always, my answer clearly is education but I know that most people will not care about it because education is something that is not a quick fix. Most people nowadays have decided — consciously or unconsciously — that quick fixes are better than real fixes. Are you getting it? This is a decision as well, just to make this clear, nobody is forced to decide this way, even though people claim they are under pressure all the time. To also make this clear: The quick fixes I am talking about are not the ones that Mintzberg refers to here in the quote. The “means to ends” logic and the implementation part are immanent to highly intuitive thinkers. But the chochem, which I guess is somehow related to the Hebrew word “hoshev” (= to think), still use their wisdom.
I know that many people nowadays are asking their superiors to make decisions all the time. Especially in the post-Covid world, there seem to be rather more decisions than less to be made. In my opinion, howver, Covid has very little to do with this. I see this as a logical and long-lasting effect of the value transformation and digitalization. But if people prefer to blame it on Covid — go for it. What I simply want to point out is that decision-making is as relevant for leaders as it has always been. And these decisions, the subjects of these decisions, if you want so, are the people who are not entitled to make these decisions.
And here it gets interesting.
You always hear about this decision-making paradox that bosses are whining about their employees asking for decisions and the employees complaining about no or wrong decisions from their bosses. One thing is for sure, of course, if you make decisions, you are held responsible. That in and of itself seems to be a problem for many. Especially in Germany, where we do not have a trial-and-error mentality, people are afraid of making mistakes. But what I want to point to by meantionig this vicious cycle of people asking for decisions and then complaining about them is this: We can ALL MAKE decisions!
Yes, there are some decisions that simply cannot be made by anyone in an organization, no doubt. But I argue that many decisions end up in the ears or on the desk of supervisors which could easily be made by other people. Maybe you are one of them? And the reason why you might not be noticing it is this: Many decisions do not look like decisions. They look like problems or even conflicts. So, for example, if you are caught in a constant battle between yourself and a colleague and you have tried everything to ease this conflict and, in addition, you feel like your job simply is not fun anymore, guess what? Yes, you can make the decision to complain about it and ask your boss to make a decision as to how to proceed with your colleague or yourself. But there is another option:
You decide to quit!
Does that sound a bit too drastic?
This is what decisions are all about. They bring about change, they make you feel a bit scared but they offer huge potential for real change. And if there is any kind of universal definition that I can come up with for the word “decision” — it is that the status quo changes. Something is not the way it was before, prior to the respective decision. That is the thing that feels quite liberaring and it also explains why there is no ‘perfect’ or ‘right’ decision in the first place. There cannot be. The thing that counts most is that a decision is made. And usually, this already brings about clarity and certainty to an extent, which is crucial for human well-being.
So, what are you waiting for?
1) Are you a “good” decision maker? Why/not?
2) What was one of the best decisions of your life so far?
3) How do you think about medically assisted suicide?