What makes a decision great is not its great outcome, but that it’s the result of a good process.
Many complex situations in life and business are complex. They are in the realm of the “known unknowns”. We can think of solutions to the specific problem, but we can’t be sure that they will work. Even nailing the problem can be challenging. Also, many things may be out of our control, so even with the best decision, we don’t have complete control of the outcome.
A bad outcome may not be the result of a bad decision. But don’t make it an excuse for poor judgment. Making good decisions is a skill. It can be learned.
Research psychologist Gary Klein has spent nearly 50 years studying how and why people make the decisions they do. In an interview with Shane Parrish, he explains that learning from mistakes is what separates the expert from the journeyman:
Years of experience certainly contribute to expertise. But it isn’t the same thing, because there are people who just don’t reflect on what happened. They don’t learn about what happened.
One of the other criteria I use, if I’m going to gauge somebody’s expertise, is I’ll ask them, “Tell me the last mistake you made. Let’s talk about that.” If the person says, “I can’t think of any mistakes,” to me, that means this person may be competent, but certainly is not an expert. Experts are well aware of their mistakes, and their mistakes eat at them until they can sort of imagine, “What I should have done is this,” and figure out a way around it.
Experts are highly aware of mistakes, but people who are journeymen, many of them stay as journeymen because they want to move on and forget about their mistakes.
We can get better at making decisions. Part of it is reflecting on our process, and learning from each decision we make, especially if the outcome was not what we expected.
Improving our decision-making process should be one of our top priorities.