The Art of decision making

Let us dive into the art of decision making.

We made decisions every day, most of the time we depend on our System-1 thinking, the quick and often reliable fast-thinking system. But as we learned before, there are a lot of hidden traps that more often than not affect our decision making.

When to make the decision

When we make a decision can be as important as how we make it. Getting the timing right is a critical factor in how effective our decision will be.

If we make a decision too early, we might not explore enough possibilities. As a result, we might miss out on the best alternative.

Making decision too early and too late both have inherent risks. So, how do we know when to make a decision?


Use these techniques to slow things down a bit.

The goal is to ensure we consider enough possible solutions, and assumptions. A simple way to do that would be:

  • Sleep on it. Consider adjourning a meeting before making a final choice. Give some more time to think about a possible solution.
  • Alter a period of time. Arrange a meeting to discuss all the possible solutions.
  • Ask everyone to try and prove whether a solution would work or not. The solution needs to be able to defend against all question.

Remember, the goal is to stress-testing the proposed solution can work, not to protect anyone’s ego. But don’t take too long.

Disclaimer: Don’t take too long

If the team take too long to make a decision, we waste valuable manhours. When people insist on hearing every viewpoint and resolving every question before making a final decision, bring the discussion to closure.

Try establishing a deadline for a decision, and require the team to use the best information available at that time.


What to do when we are having a hard time reaching a decision?

Try using “point-counterpoint” and “intellectual watchdog” methods.

How to implement them are detailed below:


To use the point-counterpoint method:

  1. Divide your team into two groups of equal size (A & B). Try to spread supporters of opposing alternatives between the groups.
  2. Ask Group A to develop a proposal for an alternative that includes their recommendations and key assumptions, and then present their proposal to Group B.
  3. Ask Group B to identify one or more alternative plans of action, and then present those to Group A.
  4. Have both groups debate the different proposals until they all agree on a set of recommendations.

Intellectual watchdog

To use the intellectual watchdog technique:

  1. Divide your team into two groups of equal size (A&B).
  2. Have Group A develop a proposal for an alternative that includes their recommendations and key assumptions.
  3. Have Group A present its proposal to Group B.
  4. Ask Group B to critique the proposal and present its analysis to Group A.
  5. Ask Group A to revise the proposal based on Group B’s feedback and present it again.
  6. Have the two groups continue to critique and revise the proposal until they agree on a set of recommendations.

Stress-test your first choice

You and your team are ready to make a big, high-stakes decision and have selected one alternative from a list of possibilities. To make sure this really is the best course of action, subject your chosen alternative to a stress-test.

To thoroughly screen your choice, ask:

  1. Has self-interest driven people to make this recommendation?
  2. Have those making the recommendation fallen in love with it?
  3. Were there dissenting opinions within the recommending team, and were they thoroughly explored?
  4. Could the recommendation be unduly influenced by memorable events such as past successes or failure under similar circumstances?
  5. Has the team considered credible alternatives to the frontrunner?
  6. Has the team dug for data about the alternative beyond what’s immediately visible and available?
  7. Have key numbers underlying the alternative been closely examined?
  8. Are those recommending the alternative overly attached to their past decisions?
  9. Are the forecasts associated with the alternative overly optimistic?
  10. Is the worst-case scenario that could result from the alternative’s implementation bad enough to accurately reflect the risks?

Further Reading


Author: Muhamad Aarif

A notorious book addict by night and an oil and gas executive by day. As Mark Twain said, "The man who doesn't read good books has no advantage over the man who can't read them." So, read, read, and read some more.

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