Decision-making is hard!

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. P. Christine Shawhan
  • I.G. Brown Training and Education Center

Decision-making could very well be the most important human skill. Both personally and professionally, decision-making skills strongly affect the quality of life and the future of an organization and its people.


Decisions, risk-taking, and innovation are interrelated. Part of decision-making includes risk-taking and part of risk-taking is also accepting failure. Some companies, such as Proctor & Gamble and 3M, actually celebrate failures. The reason is to continue to drive innovation and creativity in the organization. Failure demonstrates that a calculated risk was taken but not all risk will be successful. In fact, 3M demonstrated that a failure through innovation can be a great success. Have you ever used a Post-It note? Post-It notes were initially a failure. The product did not meet the goal of the project. However, the team was innovative and saw a need in the marketplace for the failure. How many would call the Post-It note a failure?


I found a TedTalk given by Ruth Chang called “How to make hard choices.” It focuses on the personal side of decision making but it really spoke to me from an organizational standpoint in that decision making is hard but is important to create innovation and identity in an organization.


When faced with decisions or process improvements, teams need to come up with multiple alternatives based off set objectives and criteria and analyze each alternative. Part of the analysis is weighing out pros and cons. Dr. Chang identifies that unfortunately not all decisions are based on a “better, worse, or equal to” scale. Improving one choice doesn’t necessarily make the other choice better, it just makes that choice better compared to itself. She uses this example: when choosing a career you can either be a banker or an artist. Adding $500/month to your banking salary doesn’t necessarily mean that it is better than being an artist, it just makes being a banker at that particular company better. Teams do this as well, if it saves us an hour but is back-breaking work is it a better decision?


When teams and people make decisions, we make assumptions that you can compare values and subjective alternatives with scientific and objectives ones: quality versus quantity. This is where hard decisions make us panic and we pick the easier answer, the safer answer, the least risky answer because it is comfortable and is less uncomfortable for the employees. As organizations and teams, we can’t allow fear and the outside world to determine our destiny simply out of fear. We have to embrace the alternatives as it defines who we are and creates vision and opportunity for creativity and real alternate solutions within our teams. It creates meaning for our lives and purpose for our organization. Simon Sinek calls this our “Why.” When weighing alternatives, they are not better, worse, or equal to, but as Dr. Chang uses, on a par with each other. Taking risks and making hard decisions gives us opportunity to create our destiny and write our future. This should give you great motivation to not allow fear to determine what that looks like, personally or professionally.


Chang. R. (2014, May). How to make hard choices. Retrieved from: