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There is never a good time to make a tough choice.

Given that we are supposed to live in a data driven world and there is always data to point in any direction you would like to go, why are decisions not made? Surely there is an algorithm for that?

Have you ever sat in a meeting where a decision, probably major, has to be made and it is not? It probably was not made because it was tied to an emotion. Every decision you make is tied to an emotion.

No matter how much we try and human proof the decision making process, books written about unconscious bias and tools you should use to “take the person out of the situation,” your feelings will continue to drive your decision making process.

Neurologist Anotine Bechara set out to examine the role of emotion in decision making with patients who had suffered a traumatic brain injury. Injury which impaired their emotional response range.

Not-sure-if-i-should-cut-the-red-wire-or-the-blueBuilding on the work of behavioural economists he targeted three classes of decision choices to study. Choice under certainty, choice under risk and choice under uncertainty.  If you have ever sat in a meeting where a decision was not made it was one of the latter two classes of decisions.

What Bechara found was where there was even a memory of an emotion in respect to a decision to be made, that memory was involved in the cognitive decision making process of the patients. That pale distant experience of an emotion in a person who might not be able to feel it anymore, counted.

When it comes to organisational decisions it is the most comfortable thing in the world to let things carry on as they are, until something outside of the organisation makes the choice for you. But there is something to keep in mind with regard to uncertain, high risk choices. Their full outcomes are unknowable.

You do not know what unintended consequences will occur even if you select the "best" option.

The minicomputer era ending, Digital Equipment Corporation found itself under siege from all sides. 32 Bit personal computers, Open Systems and cheap(er) networking technologies forming a wave that was drowning DEC. CEO, Ken Olsen, threw his most intellectually vigorous executives into a room and told them they needed to come up with a plan for DEC’s future and it needed to be supported by consensus. Days turned to weeks and the executives hardened around the choice of focusing on servers, solutions or semiconductors. When Olson turned up the heat for a decision his top brass crumbled, no decision made. Hand waving platitudes about doing it all and doing it the best. There was probably a corporate memo and a new vision statement to deliver the non-news.

Bob Palmer, a chip guy to the bone, came rocking up and replaced Olsen. Palmer went with semiconductors. He did not look for consensus because he knew he was rolling the dice. DEC died anyway.

Did Palmer make the wrong choice?

With perfect hindsight we know that DEC could not have succeeded in servers, in solutions or in semiconductors. It was not the leader in any of those categories and faced battles against more established and better equipped competitors in each segment. If anyone in Olsen’s pressure cooker knew that they did not pass it upwards. They did not make a decision.

When you consider the Execs had all the information about the company they required and the knowledge that other companies in different industries have faced a similar type of major realignment requirement, it does show you that you have to be willing to stick your neck out to commit to something. Palmer stuck his neck out and made an uncomfortable call, that it did not work does not take away from the fact he had the grit to do so.

Your decision might be wrong. Though you probably will not have all the information required to know why that is until later. As a decision maker it is your job to quantify unquantifiable information to the best of your ability. No other system involved can.

People might leave because of a decision you make. They might. Or they might stay and continue to work with you. You have no ownership over co-workers or employees and while you do have a responsibility not to drive them away you have a greater responsibility to create value for the business. Your decision might ensure everyone involved can make their mortgage payments for the near future as much as it might not. You do not know and will not know for a while to come. For any employee who may leave because of a strategic decision you make, if you have provide them with interesting work and have made sure they are paid enough that they do not feel exploited you have done all you can.

There is never a good time to make a tough choice. No matter the data you have or the tools you use eventually you have to step into the unknown. This will generate an emotional response.

That discomfort you are feeling is there to make sure you are committed to the outcome.