Decision-making is a favorite topic for me and previously i have written a number of other articles on the subject including decision-making rule #1

Decision-making is a favorite topic for me and previously I have written a number of other articles on the subject including Decision-Making Rule #1. Today, I want to revisit Rule #1 from a little different perspective and talk a little about some of the other rules that I have learned. Hopefully this will be of some benefit to you without having to suffer the mistakes that were part of my learning process.

If there is one mistake that most of us make, it might be called the “Lone Ranger Syndrome” where we feel we have to make every decision ourselves. The truth is, we should be trying to delegate more or enlist others in the process. Research shows that group decisions are better than individual decisions. When I wrote that the first rule of decision-making is, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” I wasn’t just referring to the action you take after the decision. I also meant that you should include others in decisions that affect them. How would you like it if someone made a decision that affected you without talking to you about it beforehand? Successful implementation of any decision depends on the buy-in of those charged with executing the decision and there is no better way to get buy-in than involving those people in the decision-making process.

Most of us have been trained to think of decision-making as problem solving and I have come to the conclusion that this thought process limits our options and has the potential to reduce our effectiveness as decision-makers. I now approach decisions as the construction of a preferred future. This makes a huge difference in my processing. I don’t have to make sure that the problem is defined properly. I don’t have to make sure that I understand all of the positive and negative aspects of the issue and I don’t get stymied when the option I decided on doesn’t work because of some obstacle in my way. Instead, I have the grand picture of the desired outcome in my mind and will self-correct automatically to achieve that preferred future. Consequently, my second rule of decision-making is that it is not a problem solving activity. It is an exercise in the construction of a preferred future.

My third rule of decision-making is that “Stuff Happens.” Even if you have considered every possibility, you still don’t know what you don’t know. In addition, there is always luck, imperfect knowledge and unintended consequences. The good news is that decisions are windows to opportunity and can be reopened and closed as often as necessary. In other words, decisions can be changed. The best manager or leader in the world cannot save a bad decision. Don’t be one of those people who made a bad decision and then spent untold time and energy covering it up. Supporting a bad decision is a downward spiral and the longer you support it the more difficult it becomes to recognize and change. Fix bad decisions quickly and move on. I know this is a difficult thing to admit, but once you remember that half of all decisions fail, it is much easier to reject bad decisions and move to a better decision.

Implementation is the final step in the decision-making process and can be full of potholes. My fourth rule of decision-making is that the success and the speed of success of any implementation are directly related to the involvement of the implementers in the decision process. (See Rule #1.) I have witnessed more prolonged and failed implementations than you can shake a stick at. Yet executives continue to force decisions on people and organizations with horrendous results. It is so much easier, faster and less expensive in the long run to involve those people who must implement the decision in the actual decision process from the beginning. My experience is that the result is much improved when approached with the implementers on board from the beginning.

Perspective is critical in decision-making and you can read more about my thoughts on perspective in the March, 2004 issue of Taking Aim. You have to have all of the perspectives represented in the process in order to understand the facts from all sides. Perspective is the fifth rule of decision-making, but I might even expand it to suggest that good decisions serve multiple constituencies. There is much being written about the triple bottom line of People, Profits and Planet. In my own decision-making process, I look for solutions that benefit three constituencies: the customer, client or patient, the employer and fellow employees.

Decision-making is an age old problem that is being compounded today by increasing knowledge, population, complexity, speed, change and much more. If 50% of all decisions fail, as Paul Nutt suggests in his book, “Why Decisions Fail”, then we need a better process and maybe a few rules for decision-making wouldn’t hurt either. If you have any rules you would like to add to the above list, please email me at

? Copyright Bob Cannon/The Cannon Advantage, 2005. All rights reserved.

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