How many times, upon realizing you’ve made the wrong decision, have you thrown up your hands and exclaimed, “If only I had known better”? Our wrong decisions, no matter how big or small, often feel like they can be traced back to a single choice between A or B. If only we could predict the future, we could make better choices.
Think of the most basic decision-making tool: a pros and cons list. Pros and cons are sets of predictions, or put another way, likely outcomes to a particular choice. Sure, anyone can make a pros and cons list. But what’s the trick to making a better one?
Good decision making is mostly about being able to see cause and effect—how one set of decisions and actions impacts another, and so on.
But experience alone does not teach good decision making. The key to learning from experience is identifying the patterns: What causes led to what effects? What decisions or actions led to the current situation? If you can see the patterns in causes and their effects, then you can think ahead with real insight.
Think of it like chess: the key to success is thinking ahead. But that doesn’t mean Magnus Carlsen is a psychic medium.
Before making a move, he plays out the likely outcomes, over a long sequence of moves and counter-moves. ‘If I do A, the other player would probably respond with B. Then I would do C, and he would probably respond with D. Then I would do E, and he would probably respond with F…’
This is what strategic planners call a decision/action tree, because each decision or action is the beginning of a branch of responses and counter-responses. Each decision or action creates a series of possible responses, and each possible response creates a series of possible counter-responses.
The next time you must make a decision, sketch out a decision/action tree for yourself. Do the best you can, basing each possible action and reaction on your past experiences and any other data you can gather. Then, take careful note of how things play out in the real world. Were your predictions accurate? Why or why not? What factors did you fail to consider that might improve your decision-making next time around?
Be aware of the decisions you are making all day long. Stop, reflect, and think ahead. Over time, your predictions and decisions will carry much more weight with colleagues.
Find more insight, advice, and tips like this in The Art of Being Indispensable at Work.