How do we make decisions?

This blog post is a part of a larger Strategic decision-making collection I am constantly adding to and invites you to reflect on your own decision-making style.

How do you decide?

Let us acknowledge that how we — as individuals — make decisions varies from person to person and from situation to situation. 

It is important to be self-aware of your individual tendencies, because they influence how you participate in business decision-making as well.

How do you tend to make decisions? 

How does your decision-making style mesh with those of your colleagues?

Next, I will offer examples of different decision-making styles and situations. Maybe you will recognize yourself or your colleagues in them.

Wide spectrum

Some people need time to process information before making a decision, while others are eager to make a call and move on to the action. 

Some base decisions solely on objective facts and figures, while others consider human relationships.

To be effective, a team needs a good mix of styles.

I personally have worked with executives with a wide range of decision-making styles. In one example, a client would require extensive quantitative analysis (models, scenarios, sensitivities) for every discussion. In a contrasting example, I had a client who would consult with her astrology fortune-teller before making major business partnership decisions.

Peacetime vs. wartime

Ben Horowitz is the co-founder and partner of the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz and author of The Hard Thing About Hard Things.  He argues that the decision-making approach needs to adapt to the situation — an idea aligned with my model of an IDEAL decision-making process.

He explains that CEOs act differently whether they operate in “peacetime” conditions, when a business is prosperous, or in “wartime,” when a company is under pressure to quickly establish itself and become profitable. 

If you’re curious, watch this 3-minute video segment from a 2015 Stanford Technologies Venture Program interview with Ben Horowitz at http://bit.ly/WarPeaceCEO.

Think - Do - See first

Prof. Mintzberg is an internationally renowned business and management academic and author at McGill University, Montreal, Canada. 

He points out that there are three broad ways to view decision-making: 

  1. Thinking first — systematic process of diagnosing a situation, designing solutions, deciding, and doing; how organizations supposedly operate

  2. Seeing first — akin to choosing a mate; you know it when you see it

  3. Doing first — iterative discovery through trial and error

If you’re curious, watch this 4-minute video by Prof. Mintzberg at http://bit.ly/ThinkSeeDo.

I often think first

I agree with Prof. Mintzberg that based on the situation, we as people have different modes of decision-making.

Further, when put in the same situation, each of us will make decisions differently. 

For example, in the video, Prof. Mintzberg suggests that few people “think first” when selecting a mate. But in fact, when I was single, I had thought through what my ideal mate would be like and had a set of criteria to help me filter out unlikely candidates. 

I’m happy to report that my husband met all the criteria, although he was borderline on height. We still laugh about it. 

Personally, I tend to start by “thinking firs” in most situations — both business and personal.

Link to your experience

Now, think through various situations where you have made decisions.

What decision-making style have you exhibited in the past?

How has it served you?

Would you like to experiment with a different style in the future? Why not today?

Please explore other blog posts in this Strategic decision-making series.


Originally written by Aneta Key in February 2016. Last edited November 2018.