Decision Making in a Breakneck Speed World and the Paradoxical Age of Consequences

Decisions Have Consequences

As the saying goes, ideas have consequences. This can be extrapolated to mean that decisions taken based on such ideas too have consequences. For instance, a business leader might decide to acquire a firm or a startup with the assumption that it would complement and supplement his or her firm’s core competencies.

Now, what happens if such an investment goes bad and does not yield the desired results? Then, the business leader has to be answerable to the shareholders and the other stakeholders about the appropriateness and soundness of such a strategic decision.

This is what happened in the case of the Indian IT (Information Technology) bellwether, Infosys, wherein it acquired the Israeli startup, Panaya, which turned out to be a strategic mistake and for which, the previous CEO (Chief Executive Officer) and some Board members had to quit.

Thus, this example serves as a warning to any business leader who has to take a decision based on the available information and data. Indeed, with the events in the business and political world moving at breakneck speed, often corporate leaders and politicians do not have the luxury of time to ponder and arrive at reasoned and well thought out decisions.

The Perils of Breakneck Decision Making and the Unanticipated Consequences

The Demonetization exercise carried out in November 2016 by the Indian Government is a case in point as far as the pressure of the moment is concerned. While the decision was initially hailed as transformative, subsequent events have proved that it was ill thought out (though well conceived) and poorly implemented without a thought to the consequences.

Indeed, withdrawing almost the entire cash in circulation in the economy in an intensive cash dependant country such as India has consequences that are being felt even now. It can be said that the Demonetization exercise highlights the perils of instant decision making in front of the Television Cameras and the likely consequences that would arrive at a later stage and which are swept under the carpet in the moment the decision was taken.

Of course, it can be argued that truly disruptive and transformative decisions have to be taken in such a manner as otherwise lethargy and inertia would sap the needed energy to take such a decision as well as the momentum being lost due to excessive caution.

While this is indeed true, the fact remains that it is better for any decision maker to think through (or at least prepare) for some of the likely consequences lest the blowback from such decisions haunts the stakeholders impacted for a long time to come.

President Trump as the Metaphor for Our Times

It is clear that most of us, whether in senior positions or just plain individuals are feeling the pressure of the moment as far as decision making is concerned. Who can deny that the urgency and the instant gratification driven 24/7 media and economic and political landscape forces the need for quick decisions on us. Indeed, with so much happening in so little time, invariably the result is that decisions are taken without a thought to the consequences.

Consider the case of the American President, Donald Trump, who breathes Television and lives by Twitter and who has the habit of changing his mind many times over with the result that the unpredictability has started to take a toll on the international standing of the United States among allies and enemies alike.

Indeed, Trump is the prime example of a decision maker who views the entire process in a binary manner or a zero sum game where the winners and the losers are clearly delineated. However, the fact remains that most decisions concerning the geopolitical arena are based on grey areas and ambiguities that cannot be viewed through the prism of I win, You Lose, or You Win, I lose mindset.

Given the complexity of the present global landscape, decision making has to be nuanced and consider the possibilities and the consequences of such decisions.

What You Can Do to Avoid the Traps of Instant Decision Making

So, what should aspiring and working professionals do in a scenario where immediate decision making is needed and at the same time, such decisions have consequences later or even in the shorter term.

One solution would be to follow the time tested practice of listing out all the pros and cons of the decision and prepare a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) analysis so that we know where we stand and what the likely consequences. Another approach would be to combine the above with plain gut feel that some of us have which is either based on experience or sheer capacity to sense and intuit the likely impact of the decisions.

Either way, chances are that rational and emotional decision making would need to be complemented by data driven approaches. This is where we can learn from Investment Bankers and Management Consultants who prepare Financial and Strategic Models for decision making and which needs some background in such topics.

Indeed, if you are a management student or a professional, you can benefit from acquainting yourself with such models to guide your decision making.

Trust, but, Verify

Above all, we would recommend another adage, Trust, But Verify, which means that you must cross check the data and the models with your peers or coworkers or for that matter, online sources, so that you do not get lost in the drive for instant decision making and end up with adverse consequences.

To conclude, in times when both major and minor decisions are forced upon on us due to exigencies of the breakneck world, it pays to defer the need for instant gratification and think through the consequences.

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Decision Making