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Ten tips to sharpen your decision-making by Mike Clayton

Ten tips to sharpen your decision-making for more robust choices

The test of a ‘good’ decision cannot be the outcome – we would never know if a decision is a good one until it were too late. And that could easily lead to decision-making paralysis.

Instead, consider a decision to be good if the right person took it, with the best available evidence, following a sound process. Here are ten tips to strengthen your decision-making process.

What decisions have you and your colleagues faced in the past, which share one or more salient characteristics with this one? We tend to believe that every decision is unique, and so forget all of the value of experience. Wisdom comes from learning, generalising, and then applying to the specific.



There is always doubt: you can never be as certain as you would like. So stop pretending you have more certainty than you do have, and embrace the unknowns. Ask: “what if our choice were 100% wrong?” Consider multiple scenarios for how your decision might play out, or for unknown factors.



More options = greater likelihood of success.

But not too many… beyond around three or four and you hit Barry Schwartz’s Paradox of Choice and find it too hard to make your decision. One option is no choice at all, two is a dilemma: yes or no? Three is real choice.



Encourage rigorous debate and argument. Track the argument, so you understand your choice and see it from different perspectives. Appoint a red team to find arguments against the prevailing view. Spot whether the argument is about the data, how it is interpreted, or about vision or values.  Each of these has a different resolution… or none.



Do your homework, and explore all of the background information you can get. Examine different sources and different modes of information presentation: reports, presentations, visits, observation…



There is no better way to gather strong evidence to help with a decision, than a well designed experiment. One experiment is worth a thousand theories and projections.



It is easy to find evidence to support your favoured course; confirmation bias will see to that. The scientific way is to look for the one data point that will trash your theory. If that data point is repeatable, you will find yourself on the edge of a deeper understanding and, maybe, a step further away from a potential catastrophe.



Pretend you made the decision already. Now assume it went horribly wrong. Ask yourself: “what would have caused this failure?” This will take you towards a way of making a better decision – or maybe the same one with fewer implementation risks.



Bring outsiders into your decision-making. They can deliver through three effects:

  1. Being different, they think differently, they know less, and therefore ask the simple questions you have ignored.
  2. Difference also creates a distinct point of view and new insights.
  3. They are objective, and therefore will care more about the decision than about egos and relationships.



Don’t contribute to the discussion. Let others do that and focus on listening hard to what they are saying. Turn off your filters of right and wrong and soak up the facts and insights. Challenge everything to force a robust assessment of each component and fact. As soon as the decision-maker lets their opinion out, you will influence everything that follows, and therefore compromise your chance to hear all the truths.


Mike Clayton has been a successful project manager and management consultant, before changing career and becoming a successful coach and trainer, founding two training businesses. Now in his third career as a speaker and author, Mike has got more done than most, yet said NO to more things than he has said yes to.

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