Decisions Don’t Have Answers – They Have Outcomes

It has become very easy to presume that there must be an answer out there for every decision. Maybe you can find it on Google. Perhaps there’s a video explaining it on YouTube. If nothing else launch a Facebook survey. Those people will tell you what to do.

Effective decision makers, however, have learned that decisions don’t have right and wrong answers. They have outcomes. Sure, you may be able to navigate through much of today’s busy world making choices from menus on a screen. But when it comes to significant decisions, you have to live with the outcome, perhaps for a long time.

We’re all evaluated on the decisions we make. These might be projects we complete, purchases we make, teams we lead, or career options we choose. Taken together, we, and those around us, draw conclusions about our efficiency, decisiveness, patience, focus, self-discipline, agility in dealing with the unexpected and a host of other metrics.

Of course, not all decisions can be evaluated, nor should they be. In this digital world, more and more of our idiosyncratic behaviors are not only measured, but broadcast in social media. Glassdoor.com publicizes reviews of company culture and management. Ratemyprofessor.com provides ratings and reviews of college instructors. Yelp.com provides reviews of how well businesses provide services. Of course, none of this is in context and based completely on individual impressions, biased or not.

Then there’s what being evaluated. More than one organization has suffered because it was measuring the wrong things. Sometimes we can fall into the trap of evaluating what is easy and obvious rather than taking the time to measure what really counts but is harder to determine.

On top of this, we need to remember that many decisions we, and others, make are a result of using our intuition. Why? Because we will never be able to completely gather all the information or define all possible outcomes. That’s where using your “gut” comes into play. But “gut” can’t be measured with metrics. Think about the last time you were faced with an important decision and struggled to determine the best path to take. Finally, when you had analyzed, or even over-analyzed, all the available information, you took a deep breath and made the decision. How do you evaluate the outcome of a decision like that?

Consider a decision you have to make right now. It might be something personal, like purchasing a new car or renting an apartment. It might be in your workplace, like the approach to take with a project or whether to volunteer for an assignment where you lack the formal training but feel like you can learn on the job. Ask the following five questions. They will help you figure out how to proceed and determine the quality of the decision once you’re done. Notice I didn’t say “accuracy” of the decision, since accuracy implies that there could be a right or wrong answer.

  1. What would you consider an ideal outcome?
  2. What behaviors will help you determine how well the outcome meets this ideal?
  3. What essential factors have to be in place for this effort to meet the ideal outcome?
  4. What obstacles may have to be overcome?
  5. What attributes do you need to demonstrate in order to achieve this ideal outcome?

Asking these five questions when making decisions of significance will compel you to focus on the outcome rather than looking to the answer.

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