All Decisions are Snap Decisions

Posted by on Sep 13, 2010 in Emotion & cognition | 0 comments

Big decisions seem to be coming fast and furious these days. With the new administration in Washington staring down one of the worst financial crises in living memory and still aspiring to implement an expansive agenda, the choices are mind-boggling. And not to be left out, state governments are being rushed into big decisions, since they, unlike the U.S. government, must balance their budgets each year. Their big decisions are less about what to do than what not to do.

But big decisions are not being made only by the government. Businesses affected by the economic crisis are also being forced to make big decisions quickly. Companies are laying off employees, postponing planned projects and abandoning those already under way.

When these big decisions are announced, one of the most common questions I hear is, “Do they understand what this means?”

Those affected by the decisions often wonder whether the implications have been carefully weighed. They wonder whose priorities have been placed first and whether the interests of all those affected have been considered. But most of all, they wonder if a decision has been considered at all or is just a snap judgment made in a state of panic.

We seem to think that snap judgments are necessarily bad ones.

What’s funny about this is that, in the end, all decisions are made the same way: instantaneously. There are a number of factors that are considered in a decision and seem to draw it out, but they’re not really part of the decision itself.

When making decisions, people sometimes do the following:

Gather data. Deliberate. Build consensus. Enumerate options. Analyze consequences. Weigh evidence. Solicit feedback. Negotiate. Organize votes. Socialize ideas. Plan implementation. Plan announcements.

But make no mistake: While important, these activities are optional. They are not decision-making. They support either the making or implementation of a decision. Big decisions are made regularly without any of them. Sometimes these decisions are good ones, and sometimes they are not.

We often don’t like to admit that even when all of those ancillary activities are done, and done well, the ensuing decisions may not be good ones – at least for us. Sometimes the snap judgments work out better than the extensively deliberated ones.

The other important thing to remember about decisions is that in the end, all decisions are snap decisions. They all follow the same process: “Not made, not made, not made … made.” They are not made until they are made. Each is either a snap decision or a well-deliberated snap decision; they all ultimately take place in an instant.

What pushes the transition from not made to made is emotion rather than reason. No matter how much analysis, deliberation and consensus-building goes on around a decision, at some point the decision-maker decides how she feels about the options and makes a call.

How we view snap decisions is based on our personal biases. Some people respect those willing to choose without deliberation, viewing them as decisive leaders. Others disapprove and call them reckless. How much followers support a decision is often based on this crucial distinction. They support choices made using a process they trust.

But the connection between decision process and decision quality is tenuous at best. At times like these, leaders and followers alike need to remember that all decisions are made quickly in the face of uncertainty. Judge your decisions based on their fit with reality and not the process through which they are made.

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