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Avoid knee-jerk decision making

Business person standing in front of black-board with arrows pointing in conflicting directionsI suspect everyone reading this blog has, at least once, been guilty of making a knee-jerk decision – I know I certainly have.  You know the type of situation:  you’re presented with a couple of facts that look ‘urgent’, so you make a quick decision without seeking further information, context or data. Soon after, you find the facts were very unrepresentative of the real holistic situation, and the decision you’ve made suddenly looks like it might not lead to the outcome you were hoping for.  In fact, it may be a complete overreaction and in retrospect might seem like a bad decision…


I very nearly made a bad (but small) knee jerk decision just the other day.  I went to make a call from my mobile (cell phone) while I was at home.  When I placed the call there was no signal.  I tried again, but still there was no signal.  Immediately, my mind focussed on every time I had gone to place a call and there had been a lack of signal.  I started to feel really frustrated, and (after using my landline to make the call) started to use Google to search for new phones, new phone networks and how to leave my existing network.


Luckily, before I signed up to an expensive new phone contract, my rational brain kicked in.  I checked my phone and the signal was back – presumably the network operator had been maintaining a cell-mast.  I started to put things into perspective – I have probably used my phone hundreds (if not thousands) of times with no reception problems.  This really was an isolated incident – and it may well have affected all other network operators too, so switching networks might not have gained any real advantage (but would have caused a lot of hassle).  Crucially, rather than making a rash decision, it would be better to sit it out and see if the problem recurs.


Yet this temptation to jump on recent examples, or those that are easy to recall or stick in our mind, can be a real problem for decision makers within organisations of all sizes.  Recent and memorable facts just seem more available to us and there is a danger that this can lead to unconscious knee-jerk decision making.  Organisations are likely to be making decisions that are much, much bigger and more important than an individual phone contract or cell network.  Organisational decisions might be worth millions – yet if we are not careful we’ll face a similar risk of making a knee-jerk decision leading to problems, waste or even failure. Clearly, it is crucial that we avoid this pitfall.


Insight over knee-jerk

Avoiding knee-jerk reactions of this type relies on us having a thorough understanding of the real business situation – not just the one or two selective facts that ‘jump out’ at us.  This understanding can be gained by using business analysis techniques to understand the true nature of any problems, whilst also nurturing data and insight over time.  It starts with a true and holistic understanding of the business situation and business problem.  This is beneficial to organisations of all sizes – whether mid-sized or multinational.  If we have a clear baseline of what ‘normal’ looks like, we can start to spot trends and consider the implications of any one-off problems.  It is easier for us to pause having seen one or two isolated incidents if we know we can keep a closer eye on future developments.


This early utilisation of business analysis and business analytics can help organisations avoid costly mistakes.  It enables senior decision makers to have the full picture before making a decision.  Additionally, it helps avoid ”turkey projects” being launched that have no real future.  It saves money and may just give an organisation an edge over any competitors that are stuck in a perpetual knee-jerk cycle.  Investment in analysis and analytic capabilities is key.


This approach of holistic and insight-driven decision making doesn’t need to be time consuming.  If we build it into our organisation psyche it can become the new normal, it can become part of our decision workflow.  In doing so, we’ll help our stakeholders avoid these pitfalls, and create better business outcomes.



What are your thoughts on knee jerk reactions and decisions within organisations? Do you have a related story or comment? I’d love to hear from you.  Please feel free to add a comment below.


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This post was brought to you by IBM for Midsize Business and opinions are my own. To read more on this topic, visit IBM’s Midsize Insider. Dedicated to providing businesses with expertise, solutions and tools that are specific to small and midsized companies, the Midsize Business program provides businesses with the materials and knowledge they need to become engines of a smarter planet.

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