Archive for September, 2014

Decisions under Uncertainty

Saturday, September 13th, 2014

Last night this message came from two exhausted parents who had just toured recommended schools for their son: “We’ve seen three schools in two days. Each great. But, which will be best? Need more time to process. Boarding plane now and home at midnight. Can we talk to you Sunday?”

These parents created an elaborate color-coordinated spread sheet which compared the size, location, tuition, single sex or coed, academic programs (traditional classroom or online), substance abuse treatment program, activities (athletics, drama, etc.) for each school. The spread sheet was a good visual comparison of the schools.

Now the parents have toured each school and decision time has come. Despite having all this information in an organized form and having been on all three campuses, the parents could not make a decision. Did they need more information? No. They didn’t.

An important business lesson my husband learned at the Harvard Business School and taught me is that one must make decisions under uncertainty and with less than complete information. Waiting for complete information means you can wait forever; big decisions are made in the midst of uncertainty.

Then how do you make them? Once the facts are gathered, rely on your gut. Last night I heard Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, tell Charlie Rose that when he took the job at Apple, there were few signs that Apple would succeed. It was a down time for the company; many pundits were predicting its failure. Tim Cook went with “his gut” and went with Apple.

The parents need to do the same. They should sleep on what they’ve experienced and go with the school that “feels” right. Adding columns on a spread sheet, calculating pros and cons will not get them where they need to be.

When parents are really torn between two schools, I suggest that they flip a coin. If they feel disappointed with the coin flip, that’s a good indication of where their real preference lies.

For more on “going with your gut”, read Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Blink.

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