oxbow, decision making, better, Toby Elwin, blog

8 steps to better decision-making

decision making, information, Toby Elwin, blog

hang ’em, but we hardly know ’em

We now have access to more information than we can possibly process. All that information does not always mean better decision-making.

Knowledge is power, but decision-making needs to make a comeback for us to realize our potential.

With all this noise, this information, this data, is your decision-making process improved?

The Future Filter

The constant challenge: you can never have all the information and time is your biggest enemy against knowing everything.

Here is how I see the funnel towards decisions (if I had time I would have made a mad 3D hierarchy pyramid, but alas … I ask you to envision a pyramid one from mere words. If anyone wants to send me a graphic, I’ll add it) with noise as the pyramid base:

  1. Noise — all the 0s and 1s/bytes and bits throughout the web, over the airwaves, across the spectrum;
  2. Research — the initial question, I wonder if… that sends you to seek answers;
  3. Information — the all-source return dump from your question or a 1-way flare (information is different from communication: see below)
  4. Data – the filter to makes sense of what is valuable and what is garbage;
  5. Communication — the 2-way relay of what you find and what needs further refinement;
  6. Interpretation — the unaccountable and unseen layers of values, wants, needs, bias, emotions, and agendas (to name a few) that your communication target has filtered your communicate through to draw their own interpretation of the information or data.  Note: you have no control on how or what you communicate interprets as intended; caution when proceeding
  7. Conversation — the deeper dialogue to clarify responsibility; and
  8. Decision — shared commitment

Let’s flip the pyramid with the top now on the bottom, kind of like hanging the world map upside down, an alternative perspective:

  1. Decision,
  2. Conversation,
  3. Interpretation,
  4. Communication,
  5. Data,
  6. Information,
  7. Research, and
  8. Noise

Pattern Recognition and Systems Thinking

Professionals are valued and paid to make decisions and to make tough decisions. The gray-haired sage is expected to draw on experience to help interpret and filter to make quicker decisions.

Here are three ways to start with decisions in mind:

  1. Begin with a hypothesis — if the hypothesis is proven wrong, all the better, add the new elements and revisit the hypothesis.
  2. Identify the constraints to better hone the target — what limits your journey from noise to decision:  time? resources? skills?
  3. Perfection is the enemy of good, go with what you have, of course showing up to meetings prepared also helps…

I value all the great dialogue, writing, Tweeting, and networking you have shared, because this is the power of social media and the wisdom of crowds.

Be wary of the Oxbow Incident-type rush to judge that pole vaults over conversation.  You may know this hang up as it’s common reference as groupthink.

Subscribe to Email Posts and Join 1,262 New Friends
I believe in your privacy and will never sell or spam your email.

Share this Post

Comments 6

  1. Thank you for posting this blog. I am facing a big decision with applying for and attending school in 2010. I’ve lived for too long having trouble making simple decisions. I want to be good at this.

    1. Luchador Felina,

      Thank you for the New Year’s Day post. Here’s to 2010 and better decisions.

      I had in mind a corporate decision or business meeting when I wrote this, but I hope your decision-making to apply and attend school is helped. School is a huge commitment and, obviously, a life-changing opportunity – that, of course, is the reason people go to school.

      I find it very helpful in decision making if a decisions support a goal. If your goal, or strategic plan, is clear then all your decisions either support that goal or detract from that goal. Any decision, objective, or action is evaluated on if it is either a resource drain or an investment to achieve the goal.

      Of course no one has all the data, the variables, or information to make a perfect decision, but with a goal in mind you have a course charted, a magnetic north, and you are far more likely to modify with time to spare or get back on track more effectively when there is a course to set to.

      You might find some value in an earlier blog I wrote on goals, objectives, and actions. Make the best decision with the information and constraints you have. Organizations, and people get in most trouble, when they don’t commit to a decision and waver. Go forward with confidence or pull the plug with equal confident.

      If you have clear actions that are time-bound and measurable you’ll see incremental and steady progress or missed achievements. Both give you the data to continue or to pull the plug if you see a trend of missed achievement.

      And regarding your last sentence, “I want to be good at this”; some studies say 90% of all projects fail, you are not alone in wanting to get better at decisions. Attending school is a project in your life. A lot of companies, organizations, and people can be much better at decision-making.

      Best wishes and continued appreciation for your comments,


      1. I’ve completed my application to Berklee and now will wait for an
        audition date. I am excited about the new opportunities ahead of me and am
        planning out my next steps. I’m also enjoying reading your twitter feed.
        You post a lot of helpful articles and I read most of them. Thanks for
        being so thoughtful.

        Esther (luchadora felina)

        1. Esther,

          Great news about your opportunity at Berklee. I’m also glad you find @BerkleeGroove Tweets enjoyable, there are a lot great music conversations going on where music is heading and what people are discovering in this new model.

          It’s interesting that so many are contributing to the conversation.Make sure to Tweet or post an update when you are in Boston for your audition.


  2. Hi Toby..

    I believe that in some cases, decisions cannot be made by following a “framework” of sorts. Sometimes, gut instinct can play a role, although this is no definitive method to make a decision.

    The careful types may be in a position to point out that without careful deliberation & analysis, one could end up risking ones business – but there’s an argument for this: Some decisions which are made impulsively are nothing more than a persons intuition assimilating all the information/knowledge a person already has, thus aiding the decision -making process.

    I believe that there is a time and place for sound decision-making processes, however, in many cases, it is just as important, if not more-so, for people (especially entrepreneurs) to be able to make quick decisions.

    1. Post

      I completely agree with you. Frameworks are a way to make sense of the world, really just models. While frameworks may help us explain a process or share and understanding, I do not believe there is a prescription for making a decision.

      Your point about intuition is well said. You hope accumulated experiences built enough context for that intuition to kick in.

      Making a quick decision and making a rash decision are not the same. Sometimes letting decision options socialize is an intentional strategy to see more sides of the view and to build a bit of awareness and commitment.

      The former is just the intent of why I maintain this site and blog. The latter is the action of a strong leader.

      I wonder you thoughts on Buy-in is broke.

      Thank you for the thoughtful comment.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.