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Blog: Decision Making Methods

08.29.18

Decisions, Decisions: Strategies to Curate Efficient and Successful Solutions

Concept of choice with crossroads spliting in two ways.jpeg

We are constantly making decisions: studies have estimated we make anywhere from 70 to 30,000 decisions every single day. Research from Cornell claims we make an average of 200 decisions about food alone. Whether you are the CEO of Uber or just figuring out what you’re going to eat for lunch, decision-making is an important skill to have in our toolbox.

This is often easier said than done, especially if you’re facing limited time or immense external pressure to make a good decision fast. Some approaches take painstaking efforts to gather information and advice from a wide variety of sources, while others dismiss this gathering process and just trust their gut. Both have their merits and flaws, either in the quality or efficiency of the final result. But if you’re looking to feel confident in your decision-making process and not lose your mind (or outside approval) in the process, here are a few decision-making methods you can try.

Before all else, many experts emphasize mindfulness and awareness while making decisions. This cognitive “stepping back” increases attention, allowing one to observe all information and monitor the reactions you have. Slowing down and accepting the difficult nature of the process can lead to reduced stress and a more authentic product.

Sometimes while making a difficult decision, you just want some other, more rational self to make the decision- especially if we are faced with two good options and no clear frontrunner. But there really is no such thing! In fact, our decision-making and emotion centers in the brain are connected, both linked in the orbitofrontal cortex. This means your “rational brain” is synonymous with your “emotional brain.” That said, this connection might be more useful than you’d think: emotions are partly comprised of physical responses to information we might not have consciously noticed. We are constantly absorbing stimuli and information from our environment, but only attending to a select bit of it. If you are choosing between two similar-seeming apartments- comparable cost, similar appealing amenities, etc.- your unconscious brain might have taken in that sketchy area you passed through on your route to one of the apartments that escaped your awareness. This would result in a negative emotion, a source of information that you’d be wise to pay attention to. Of course, we can misattribute emotions to misleading reasons and be wrong. But good decision makers let the situation guide them, taking into account all available information.

From a managerial perspective, decision-making changes as one moves through an organization. Managers must learn to exchange information, review data, create ideas, evaluate alternatives, implement directives, and follow up, all of which determines the success of their organization and their career within it.

The Harvard Business Review has identified different kinds of decision-makers: the Maximizer, the Satisficer, the Single Focus, and the Multifocus. The Maximizer will take in huge amounts of information, pouring over every able option and resource before they make any kind of decision. They are motivated by finding the absolute best answer, and won’t let up until they are sure they have it. They often find it, but at great cost and inefficiency. The Satisficer only needs to know the key facts, jumping to ideas and testing them out along the way. They want to act as soon as they feel they have a satisfactory amount of information. The Single Focus wants to take just one course of action, committing time and energy into creating outcomes they believe in. Finally, the Multi Focus creates many avenues of options and pursues all of them, adapting to their circumstances and remaining open.

A second dimension is the style of decision-making: whether it is decisive, flexible, hierarchical, or integrative. A decisive decision is one made from action, speed, and efficiency, time being the most important aspect of the process. People that make decisive decisions take just one course of action and move on, taking in a little information. Flexible decisions also take in a little information, but entertain many options. Speed is still important, but adaptability is the most valuable attribute- in case one path doesn’t work, these decision-makers want to be able to change course quickly and easily. The hierarchic style takes in lots of data but pursues just one course of action. There is no rush to judgment, lots of data is analyzed from multiple sources so that the decision is integrative and will be effective for a long time. And finally, the integrative solution incorporates the multiple inputs of the hierarchic style, but allows for many options like the flexible method. This style incorporates lots of diverse information and allows for a flexible process to come to the right conclusion.

There are plenty of other factors that influence decision making- visibility, time, biases, resources- but consistently, the most successful managers and executives become more open and interactive in their leadership styles and even more analytic in their thinking styles as they progress in their careers. Professionals may start out making decisive, on-the-spot decisions, but as they advance they are able to take more time and incorporate more input using an integrative style. And, if one fails to make this evolution, it can prove fatal to their career.

These in-depth decision-making processes aren’t necessary in day-to-day decision making. In fact, they only serve to slow us down. We usually rely on heuristics and mental shortcuts to decide what to have for lunch. The best managers know that the best decision for an organization isn’t the fastest or the easiest, but the best researched, most decentralized, and intuitive as well as rational. The Executive Decision Making program from UC Berkeley Executive Education does a deep dive into different decision-making styles. Join Don Moore and other distinguished Berkeley Haas faculty and identify ways to create effective, high efficacy solutions for your organization.

Written by: Corinne McGinley
UC Berkeley student & Executive Education Intern

Citations Executive Decision Making. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://executive.berkeley.edu/programs/executive-decision-making

Iyengar, S. S., & Lepper, M. R. (2000, December). When choice is demotivating: Can one desire too much of a good thing? Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11138768

Kenneth R. Brousseau, Michael J. Driver, Gary Hourihan, Rikard Larsson. (2014, August 01). The Seasoned Executive's Decision-Making Style. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2006/02/the-seasoned-executives-decision-making-style

Cultures, G. W. (2017, December 07). 10 Tips for Making Executive Decisions in Ambiguity. Retrieved from https://www.huffingtonpost.com/great-work-cultures/10-tips-for-making-ex...

7 Steps to Making Better Decisions. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.oprah.com/spirit/how-to-make-the-right-decision-how-to-decide...

How to Mindfully Make Important Life Decisions. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/laugh-cry-live/201706/how-mindfu...

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