Decision Making Skills and Their Development: Critical Tool for Career Success

Decision Making Skills and Their Development: Critical Tool for Career Success

After writing the title of this article, I got to asking myself, what exactly is ‘decision making skills’? Well, according to a rather dry, scientific definition one could say it’s the choosing between alternative courses of action. It is a process that involves establishing objectives, gathering relevant information, identifying alternatives, setting criteria for the decision, and selecting the best option. But those last few words have quickly become troublesome to me: “selecting the best option.”

Hmmm, OK, here’s the rub. This is very similar to the method I used one time in making a “career decision,” well, kind of (I’ll get to the specifics here in a moment; bear with me). I was working on my undergrad degree while supporting myself with a decent paying job, but I decided that I wanted to work from home so I could apply the forty hours a month saved on drive time to my studies. So here’s what happened.

I found a job where I could work from home managing a high-end startup’s data base, for I used to work in the computer field and had the experience. So I sat down and made out a pros / cons list. There were roughly thirty-six pros and six cons. I knew my objectives, had gathered relevant information, identified alternatives, made out my list and came up with an answer which according to this method seemed clear cut and obvious. So I quit my job and took the new job according to this, shall we say, scientific decision making process.

But there was one problem.

Even though all the data and analysis pointed to the answer stated above, something in my gut told me “Don’t take the job.” Was my gut ever right!

After quitting my job, attempting for weeks to get set up at home with office equipment from the new company, I realized that it wasn’t going to work. My boss, or the owner of this startup, turned out to be a flake. I ultimately ended up going to small claims court with three other potential new employees only to have the owner counter sue us by taking us to superior court.

My attorney advised me to just drop the case, for even if I won (which could end up costing thousands more) the chance of me ever collecting the money was slim. So I ended up being out some $5000 in lost salary, lost time, and lost job. I eventually got my old job back, but my using this more academic-type or technical decision-making process turned out to be tremendously costly.

Moral of the story? Now I listen to my gut all the time, and it has served me tremendously without fail.

So you thought you were going to come here and learn some specific methodical skills that would aid you in your decision making? Well, I can give you some help there, for it does take a certain level of discipline, critical thinking, and thorough analysis to get to the point where you use your gut, but at the core, at the foundation is the critical need to develop one’s intuitive understanding to make key decisions. However, the use of decision making skills or which to use and how often is situational. More on this in a moment.

But the bottom line is that after you’ve learned how to look at what’s out there, who to trust and what to trust in your research (part of the critical thinking that is more cold, hard, academic or scientific), ultimately you are going to be the most successful in skills competencies or competency skills (being effective) when using intuition or gut instinct.

Not sure? Here’s a few examples for you.

Donald Trump speaks of going with his “gut instinct.” At one point, after he had lost millions, he was feeling quite low and had no desire to go out. He received a call that there was a party in New York City close to where he lived at the time and the caller had invited Trump. The caller also mentioned that in all likelihood there was going to be several bankers in attendance. When your business is not doing well, you end up owing a lot of money, and it’s usually banks who are calling to collect on outstanding loans, which Trump had several of.

He initially thought that going to the party would be the worst thing he could do. Even when things were going well, he did not attend parties frequently nor see a need to. And considering that he felt down, not in a party mood, it was raining and he had no driver so he’d have to walk, and that there would be bankers in attendance who he probably owed money to, why go? But amazingly enough, a strong gut feeling told him he should. Trump frequently relies on his gut and it hadn’t let him down yet, so he went.

Upon arriving at the party, he actually began to feel better. He sat down and talked to people, and before he knew it he was lost in conversation. At one point, he realized that the person sitting next to him was someone he knew, infamously. It was not only a banker but one whom he hated vehemently and had said many bad things about publicly. But what came next was the most unexpected thing. They began to hit it off amongst the barbs being shot back and forth, and ultimately it was this banker who helped him most in getting him back up on his feet financially.

This is certainly not something that could have been planned for or an event that could have come about using any type of formal or academic decision theory. And I can tell you that I have used this “gut instinct” or intuition for decisions large and small, and it has rarely failed me and has certainly produced greater results than using hard decision theory. Consider that some of the greatest minds have used scientific decision theory to great failure and you’ll see great truth to my statement.

But here we are not talking about leading a company or a country. We are talking about assessing skills or decision making skills to aid you in personal choice, specifically here career choice. But after you’ve made that career decision using your gut instinct or intuitive understanding, you might want to continue to use it on the job. Case in point:

There is a gentleman by the name of Mohamed A. El-Erian, co-CEO and co-CIO of PIMCO, one of the largest investment management companies in the world. He formerly served as president and CEO of Harvard Management Company, a firm that manages the university’s $35 billion endowment. Nice resume, huh. But I mention him for a reason.

He puts great stock in the intuitive or gut instinct.

In his book, When Markets Collide, El-Erain makes a revealing statement: “I will uncover many of the understandable reasons why otherwise rational and well-informed investor can be late in recognizing important turning points and be prone to mistakes” (2). His point being that here’s some highly intelligent individuals who have had their scientific decision making models fail them. There are always things that happen that can’t be foreseen.

Even Stephen Hawking, our modern-day Einstein, says that no theory is absolute, or no theory can be proven absolutely true because we just don’t know enough. We have limits in the extreme when it comes to knowing all or looking into the future, I hope you know. But back to my point.

With the global market changing so much, more countries coming on board as they move out of communism, this has created the new or unexpected or what El-Erain labels “noise.” The point he makes is that this noise or newness should not be simply dismissed or ignored. Another skill for those looking to enhance skills competency or competency skills is to keep an open mind to new idea and to be tolerant of the same. Those of the greatest minds remain nimble in their thinking allowing for creative new possibilities. This being how Einstein through his theory of relativity was able to take established thinking that had been accepted for decades and dispense with it, even though it was that of his hero and mentor Sir Isaac Newton.

What often happens while attempting to make decisions is that one will or can never know enough to make a decision based solely on existing knowledge or data. And this often results in paralysis of analysis where the individual gets so bogged down in needing to know for sure that he does nothing at all. But our friend El-Erain has something to say about this.

There are those who develop instinct, gut feeling, or intuitive understanding , and it is these people, the Bill Gates, Donald Trumps, and Edward Cowen’s of the world know. Edward Cowen you say?

El-Erain discovered early in his career not to ignore “noise” and that he should “ask whether there are signals within the noise,” meaning, open your mind and don’t block out the new or unknown to discover the answer. As a young analyst, he met a man named Edward Cowen who taught him the lesson above. El-Erain mentioned that Edward’s “instincts were so sharp that they more than complemented . . . his rigorous training in economics and a command of finance mathematics.” Yes, his instincts were more important than his knowledge, a critical point.

El-Erain continues: “Indeed, he illustrated back then what work, particularly in behavioral finance and neuroscience has confirmed: The importance of instincts, especially during periods of market stress.”

Those who excel and exceed the majority, or who exceed most in their competence skills, certainly do their homework, but when it comes down to the nitty gritty must go where science, theory, and math cannot: the intuitive gut instinct.

This by far is one of your most important decision making skills in not only finding the right career but making the best and most accurate decisions within that career, especially in times of stress when everyone else is looking to the known while you look with acceptance and understanding to the unknown and unfamiliar to discover your answer. And in developing this skill you will be one of the few, the sought after.

Here’s to your success.

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