Making Decisions is Real Scary

But someone’s gotta do it.

A few months ago, we at CompFest had to make a tough decision. Acting as the Vice Project Officer, alongside with the Project Officer, the final decision was on us. It was the first tough decision that we had to make, and the situation really, really made me feel very uncomfortable. By the end, we decided on something that, in a hindsight, wasn’t doing any good at all—but, after much analysis, will pay in the future (and I later figured out that it did).

We were painfully reflecting over our choices when I realized how people would steer clear from this kind of situation. At that point, I kind of wanted to as well. I remembered why back in grade school, I never raised my hand when my teacher asked me “is anyone interested in becoming the class president?”. It was because I was afraid of being the person everyone would point at when something goes wrong, saying, “it’s her decision!”

Later I discovered that there is a great 1992 study conducted by cognitive scientists Amos Tversky and Eldar Shafir on thinking under uncertainty. It shows that we humans naturally tend to avoid uncertainty. After much pondering, I realized that the mixture of making decisions of an uncertain outcome (which, ironically, are how decisions are) and being accounted for whatever is going to happen next (especially when it involves a lot of people) is naturally not an enjoyable situation for anyone.

But someone has to make the tough call, and that’s where leaders come into play.

There are many reasons why not everyone is a leader. Some are just not interested and some may have their passions elsewhere. But some people might simply just don’t want to be in such dreary situations, making the call. I’ve been there. It’s natural. Not only having to make the tough call, but leaders must be prepared at all times too, for not all situations in life are going to be as easy as picking pizza over Chinese takeaways for dinner. So throughout most of the years I’ve lived, I had been avoiding such situations. Until at some point I threw myself into it, because I had a dream that I wanted to turn into reality and there was no other way.

Plenty of tough situations later, I learned along the way that there are actually ways to minimize the queasiness (and uncertainty) of the whole ordeal. First, data. It doesn’t have to be a .csv file to tinker around with — it can actually be any information or facts relevant to your situation. I’ve come to learn the importance of having the right data and using it the right way in the past few months.

But not all decisions have something to do with quantitative data (and not everything is blessed with proper data to begin with), and that’s fine. Which brings me to point number two, which is intuition. It can be quite difficult listening to that “whisper in your heart” especially when you have solid facts available, but over time I’ve found that the “whisper in your heart” takes me further than I thought I’d be.

Even data and intuition are not mutually exclusive. To start mining the data you need, you need to know first what you need, and that requires good intuition and analytical skills to begin with. To sharpen your intuition, you must, in some way, learn why existing data exists the way they are now and why occurrences that have happened in the past, well, happened. Both go hand-in-hand, and learning how to get the best out of those two is an art of its own.

Now for me, making tough decisions is getting more and more bearable. You can make it more bearable too. By the end of the day, someone’s got to make the call, and who knows if that person is you?

Originally posted here.

February 28, 2016