Whenever I watch a goalkeeper defending a penalty kick, I wonder what must be going on in his or her mind. Will he or she be analyzing the movements of the penalty kicker and regurgitating the statistical probability of the trajectory of the kick … or will he or she dive on either side of the goal post based on sheer gut feel or intuition? Business goalkeepers are faced with numerous “penalty kick” scenarios during their daily firefights. Uncertain future (the opponent) can choose to take one of many probable strategic trajectories, the time-to-decision is very limited, and the error could mean a setback, if not a defeat.
Would you rather be paralyzed by the analysis or take a risk to be dead in an accident caused by an intuitive action? Should one analyze every probable strategic path that the devil of uncertainty may take … or should one rely on the blip of the neurons to decide without really bothering to engage in any kind of analysis? I call it an impossible balance and an obscure choice! Let me tell you why.
Given the finiteness of the time-to-decision and the limited processing power of the human mind, analyzing every probable path is merely an utopia! Thus, every analysis is based on incomplete data. On the other hand, intuition, too, involves analysis of some kind by your subconscious mind! That is why it is an obscure choice. In a tight timeline, the line between analysis and intuition is blurred.
Even though obscure, one still has a choice to make. (a) Whether to analyze or not? (b) What and how to analyze? (c) When to stop analyzing and take an executive decision? Honestly, if knee-jerk reaction is the alternative, analysis is not an option! But, in today’s world of the Big Data, “what” and “how” of the analysis can be perplexing questions. Similarly, judgement as when to stop analyzing is an extremely tough one to make. If you analyze a bit more, you would probably get better grasp of the reality but probably not be left with enough time to act. This, indeed, is an impossible balance to keep!
I observe a lot of successful people around me to see how they achieve this impossible balance in making this obscure choice. Here are a few best practices I have learnt from them:
Analyze but have a positive bias for action. It is important to know that our lives are finite and no one has enough time to decide and act. You are not alone in this plight. While engaging in the analytical process, do not forget that it is a means to an end and the goal is … to act!
Keep your analyzing brain independent from the decision making brain. Ideally, it should be someone else’s brain and not yours. Human mind is dumb (try this, if you don’t believe me). Your brain will see what you want it to see! An independent analyst, who is assured not to be shot at for bearing an occasional bad news, is likely to present you with the best possible picture of the uncertain future.
On a side note, my teacher, Thomas H. Davenport, in his article The End of Analytics, describes how Artificial Intelligence analytical environments such as Saleforce’s Einstein and IBM’s Watson is “leapfrogging” the traditional business intelligence and analytics capabilities.
Identify the key drivers that effect the outcome. Not all inputs affect the outcome of your decision equally. There always are some pivotal drivers that have potential to swing the outcome disproportionately. Identify them and test them.
However deep the analysis is and however extensive is the underlying data, uncertain future is not going to freeze and become certain. Hence, no analysis is complete without a stress-test of the analytical model and exploring multiple scenarios. Unless you do a what-if analysis on the key drivers of the analytical model, you won’t see the dark corners of the future!
Most importantly, encourage a corporate culture that empowers its managers to express diverse opinions and take bold actions. An empowered team of buddies who engage in healthy debate before a decision is made and defend it once the decision is made (rather than engaging in blame-games, in case of a failure) is the only hedge against the tunnel-visioned human multiple mind of the leadership.