Picture this. You are driving down the expressway at 90km/h. You decide to switch lanes. You recall from your driving instructions many years ago that you have to look into your wing mirrors, look over your shoulders to check your blind spot, ensure that there is no car beside you, flick your turning indicator on to signal that you are filtering, turn the steering wheel, keeping your hands in the 10-o’clock and two-o’clock positions, and keep the motion smooth. When you get onto the other lane, accelerate so that you don’t hold back the car behind you and when you have gained a safe distance, slowly ease back to 90km/h. And this is what you will do for this, and all the other times, that you overtake a car in front of you. Is this how you think through the action? Most likely, no.
If you have been driving for some time, all these come to you instinctively and you can ease into and out of a space along the expressway without having to think about it. You are using your gut instinct to drive.
According to Martin Turner and Jamie Barker, in their Entrepreneur Magazine article Fight Overthinking, The Destroyer of Decision Making, they likened decision making to that of driving a car, and if we had to think about the component activities that we needed to take in order to drive, we would be very slow and ineffective. The authors contend that since we don’t do that when we drive, we should also not fuss about the components of decision making when deciding.
They are absolutely correct!
Except that we don’t have as much experience making strategic decisions as we have driving. Or playing golf. Or cooking. Or playing the piano. Or any other activity that requires expertise.
The fact of the matter is, in order to reach that level of driving expertise, we will need to master each component of driving. As Daniel Kahneman introduced in his book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, the gut instinct is a System 1 activity and conscious thought is a System 2 activity. In order for us to move our conscious activities into automatic response, we need consistent and numerous practice. Malcolm Gladwell postulated in his book, Blink, that it required 10,000 hours of practice to get there. Hence, if we drive everyday, over time, we will move away from conscious effort of each component to unconscious effort of simply driving.
Unfortunately, we don’t have as many opportunities to develop decision making as we do of developing our driving skills. How many big, strategic decisions do you have to make in a day? A week? A month? Some don’t even handle one a year! So while the authors can say, “Go with your gut,” the gut is seldom right when it comes to such big decisions - unless you have had a lot of experience making such decisions. And even then, as circumstances differ from decision to decision, there is still no expertise!
So what is the solution? A slow, evolutionary process of getting from where you are to where you want to be. That is not overthinking. If you have a proven methodology that can produce the right decision every time, and you know how to use each component of this framework, then when you meet with a strategic decision, take the deliberate action. Move from step to step to ensure that you have covered all the bases before you make the decision.
Because, if automatic response in driving has sometimes caused accidents, automatic response in decisions can have even graver consequences! So if you don’t have the experience and the expertise in the subject matter to make a decision, don’t just rely on your gut! Use our Strategic Decision Making framework instead.