Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The ABC of Decision Making

I am not talking about the mundane "Should I fill gas today?" kind of decisions. I am talking about the big ones - "Nine months of labor or adoption?" kind of ones. There are scores of self help books (isn't it an oxymoron - if the book helps, then how is it self help?) written to help you make the right decision. Believe me - they are all useless. But they all exist because the problem with decision making is very real. I am reminded of this little sanskrit shloka (translation attached).
Everyone has to have his own formula to arrive at a comfortable decision. There is no 'one size fits all' formula... Here is what I think works for most of us. Shoot back with rebuttals and alternative paths.

A: Gather inputs/opinions from *all* directions.
Opinions come dime a dozen. Everyone has one. It is the one thing people are ready to give away for free. But who knows, one of them could open your mind into a whole new dimension of thinking. So listen carefully and deeply to everyone. To quote Jason Bourne - "Forget Nothing".

When I say 'all directions', *all* include family, friends, forums, strangers, your alter ego, supernatural powers and so on. For example: Taxi drivers can give excellent feed back on the handling of different makes of cars in city traffic. Your alter ego could stop you from doing anything immoral (according to standards set by your own sub-conscious). Listen to it sometimes.

The *all* excludes anybody who can use the situation against you ;-) duh. Never ask a policeman if it is a good idea to bury the murder weapon beneath the apple tree.

At the end of this phase, you will be more confused than when you began. That is good. It only means that you have found more options than you initially thought was possible. True stroke of genius always takes shape amongst chaos. So don't be afraid.

B: Scrutinize the above collected opinions/options/suggestions/advice
The data collection phase is now over. Its time to churn it to make sense. Now scrutinize every opinion you got. The key questions you have to ask are:

How credible is the source?
Unless you have extra-ordinary reasons to prove otherwise, your alter-ego and all supernatural powers fail this test. Promptly discard their suggestions. Its noise.
Secondly, if a person shies away from accountability and keeps saying 'ultimately its up to you', then you should see though him. On the other hand, if somebody gives you insight into their way of seeing the problem, and hence their way of arriving at the solution, he is more credible. People who can take criticism are generally more credible than those who can not. Stay away from believing a person if he makes blanket statements. We know that world is not in Black and White. Any solution based on such assumption, (in spite of being ideal) is bound to be impractical. Some comments need to be taken with a grain of salt. Some with pinch, and some with bag loads of them.

Relevance of the advice: Your father may give the best relationship advice. He is very credible and can be trusted to be your best well-wisher. Perhaps, not the best person to ask which college to join or which course to take. In all fairness, it is wrong to ask people for comments on subjects way out of time and interest.

Does the source have vested interest? This is a very key question we often fail to ask ourselves. You should never listen to a insurance agent who gives investment advice. He stands to gain or lose (a lot) when you decide one way or the other. Never ask for marital advice from your father in law ;-). You do not ask a salesman whether to go for 21" TV or a 42" one. It is usually the second layer of friends who can give the most objective suggestions. They are the ones who are emotionally involved, general well-wishers, frank enough to say "I don't know".

Weigh each opinion. Those suggestions that come from 'been there, done that' kind of people should carry more weight than hypothetical (guys who discuss global warming) answers. Obviously, your opinion carries the maximum weight - closely followed by other people whose lives are touched by your decision. Surprisingly, next in my list are that of total strangers. 1. They have no reason to hurt you. 2. Opinions given in a open forum are subject to extensive peer review and hence carry the credibility tag. 3. very helpful in getting a radically different approaches.

Hopefully at the end of these steps, you will be left with a handful of options that can be dealt in a definite order of priority. If they are still too many, you may have to dig deep into each one of them questioning/re-examining every statement.

C: What if analysis
Do a thorough 'what if' analysis on each of your options. Actually if you bother to think about 20 years ahead, it does not matter one bit if you chose this way or that. However, for the peace of mind during those 20 years its better to have some semblance of analysis to backup your decisions. The distance you have to account for in this phase depends on the gravity of the problem. A question like "To run the Mumbai marathon or not?" needs only 3 months of future to consider. A question like "Mainframe job in US or Research at IISc?" could have a 5 year horizon. If you think beyond that, you analysis runs the risk of invalidated by a geo-political event - a war or a deep recession or a unholy treaty ;-)

After all these, you decision *has* to pass through the final test of morality. The standards of morality has never been absolute. It varies from times to time, generation to generation, place to place and even person to person. Nevertheless, it is always better to live with regret of staying moral than the guilt of immorality.

Act. This is as important as coming to a decision. Once you have committed yourself to decision, you must see it through. If in doubt, then do a rerun of ABC without widening the scope. Remember, Not acting is a decision in itself. Hence there is no meaning in coming to a real decision and not acting.

The three 'R's: In sanskrit they say "kAlAya tasmai namaha" (salutations to the all powerful time). Only time can completely determine the fallouts of your decision. Year later, you will usually recall your decision in one of the following ways
Rejoice: You still think it was the best decision and your life is much more happier since then. This is the ideal place to be... Hopefully ABC should lead us there.
Regret: You are happy with the present scenario. But, feel you made a rash decision. Another option could have landed you in a better situation. This is the place where half the humanity currently exists. Everybody feels, they could have done better 'if only...'. However, the luxury of this hindsight is not there at the decision point. People must understand that it is OK to err, as long as they take the best decision possible with the information available at that instant. That is when they will move from Regret to Rejoice.
Repent: The decision has back-fired. Clearly one of A, B or C was overlooked. But that's not the end of the world. There is always another 'R' - Retry. Countries

1 comment:

aishu said...

OMG , That's an exhaustive list!

I guess every other person follows these steps for any major decision making..but in their own version.

But you have some very interesting insights. I will remember to take a peek here next time I am at crossroads :-)