The ‘sweet spot’
In our latest podcast episode 20, Noodle founders Kate Wood and Max Gooding look at how decision-making literally drains your brain of energy, and examine how we can feel safe and avoid the stress brought on by being in situations where we have to make decisions based on very little information.
Sometimes it’s just unavoidable.
There are always going to be times when we have to make decisions without having enough information to make us feel comfortable about the potential outcomes. But when people are looking to you to step up and lead – because that is your role as a manager – how do you make sure you stay on the front foot? To make those decisions when there is no other option, even if it means course-correcting later on if need be?
Is there a ‘sweet-spot’ for decision-making? That place where you feel confident because you know what it is that you need, in order to make the best decision going forward? Even if you don’t have all the information. Because something is better than nothing, and sometimes delaying an important decision which has to be made is the worst thing you can do.
Adjust, rethink, adapt…
Think of it as the ‘Goldilocks space’. A sort of ‘decision-making porridge’ – not too much information, not too little information, but somewhere in the middle.
You might not have all of the information, but maybe you have just enough to make an informed decision which can be tweaked further down the line. Adjust, rethink, adapt to new information as and when you receive it, and keep moving forwards. Maybe change course a little if you need to. But always be adaptable, ready to refine and adjust as necessary.
The consequences of decisions
In one of our ‘noodles’, Delegating Decisions, we look at the criteria some very successful people have had for decision-making. In this podcast episode, we discuss Jeff Bezos and his thoughts on the consequences of decisions, and whether those consequences can be reversed. Or are they irreversible? For instance, if you step through a doorway, does the door close behind you, or is it a swing door which allows you to step back the way you came? And would you be likely to come to a different decision if you know there is no going back?
As managers, we are having to make decisions all the time. But does the fact that we are making smaller decisions every day prepare us properly for those rare occasions when our decisions can have very serious consequences? Do those smaller decision-making situations (let’s call them mini-versions) give us the opportunity to practice, to fail even, so that we can ensure that we get it right when it really counts? To try out our decision-making processes in a safe space, almost like a playground, where the consequences are small and not irreversible?
Clear and articulate criteria
One thing is for sure – when it comes to making a decision which is for the good of your business, recruitment for instance, it’s best to have clear and articulate criteria up-front. So that you know that “yes, this fits”, or “no, this doesn’t suit”, or “we can work with this, but it will need tweaking”.
Without that clearly-defined criteria, things can fall apart. Imagine a situation where two managers are interviewing applicants for a vacancy within the company. Both managers are intelligent and experienced but have neglected to discuss between them exactly what kind of personality traits they are looking for in the applicant. The way they dress, whether they are demonstrative or shy, etc. One manager might consider them to be a perfect fit for the role, whilst the other completely disagrees. Each manager will have had their own criteria, but failed to discuss this with their colleague – which demonstrates the importance of communication between managers in joint decision-making. Perhaps one (or even both) of the manager’s decision-making criteria was affected by unconscious bias.
Here at noodle, we recommend a great book by Joan C. Williams entitled Bias Interrupted, Creating Inclusion for Real and For Good, which discusses this in more detail citing on how much harder it is for some groups, such as women from non-white backgrounds and a lower social class to become successful in the workplace.
Clear and articulated criteria can come in useful outside of the workplace too. When dating, for example, or even when trying to decide which pair of shoes or nice jacket to buy or even the merits of a potential date! Or what to have for breakfast. Porridge? Decision-making porridge…
Be bold and take a risk
Making decisions can cause us to put a lot of pressure on ourselves. Sometimes we might think it’s easier to defer or to not make a decision at all. But although the easier choice might be to not make a decision, it won’t necessarily be the right one. Sometimes you just have to be bold and take a risk, based on the information that you do have, even if you wished you had more.
Even governments don’t always have all the information. Look at the decision-making during the pandemic. There was always plenty of debate about when, or when not, to lock down the country, how to support people and issues regarding the vaccines. We’re not going to go into the rights and wrongs of any of the decisions which were made, rather just use this as an illustration that sometimes even really big decisions affecting all of us have to be made, based on less than ideal amount of data.
Some decisions aren’t necessarily our decisions at all, but have been imposed on us. Imagine yourself in the shoes of a manager who has to make decisions regarding cutbacks, and which members of staff to make redundant. The decision to make those cutbacks was made elsewhere but has been imposed on the manager, who must decide who to let go. So the manager is on the back foot, but people will still be looking to them to lead the way, and will respond to their emotions and attitudes around the decision. Somehow, the manager has to find a way to reframe the narrative, to transform a negative into a positive.
More glucose, please
The pre-frontal cortex (the decision-making centre of the brain) depletes its supply of glucose every time we use it. As there is naturally more glucose in the pre-frontal cortex in the mornings, this explains why many people often find this the best time to make important decisions. Because decision-making can be both physically and psychologically demanding – quite literally. Maybe this is why some of us arrive home after a long day at work, completely incapable of making that simple decision about what to have for dinner. Our pre-frontal cortex has run out of glucose and our ability to make a decision has all dried up!
Join the conversation…
Join the conversation at noodle.space and find out more about the tricky subject of making decisions at The Accidental Manager where our five-minute noodles will help you delve further into the psychology around decisions and the decision-making processes. We recommend noodles Delegating Decisions, Reframe, Change Types, Narrative 4mat, 6 hats and Simple Rules.
You can also follow us on Instagram @noodle_space for regular snippets of noodle wisdom.
A lot of important learning tends to happen by accident and this podcast series shares with you the lessons we wish we'd known sooner. Kate and Max explore the good, the bad and the ugly experiences they've had as people managers and consultants as they noodle through what worked and why. This podcast helps you to be the best version of yourself when interacting with individuals and teams, sharing ideas to boost your confidence, have more impact and be more influential.