How We Make Decisions

We are all rational beings, making decisions after carefully weighing the analytical arguments.  We always keep an open mind.  We study the facts, and then decide.  Logical, analytical, practical.  When confronting a big decision, our brain overpowers everything to help us arrive at the right conclusion.  We don’t let emotions get in the way.  Ever.

Right?

Well, it’s probably not like that for most of us.

Head Justifies the Heart

We actually tend to make emotional decisions first, and then look for facts to justify that decision.  That’s what the scientists say in recent studies.

Our “gut” helps us decide.  That’s emotion.  In other words, we decide in our heart and justify it in our head.

That’s not good or bad; it’s just the way it is.

As a result, marketers tend to pull at our “heart strings” with emotional appeals.  It’s why branding is so important—colors carefully chosen, music picked with care.  All of it is designed in an effort to sway our emotional decision-making.  We create a certain feeling through the use of sensual imagery.

Ironically, these marketing decisions are not based on what marketers “feel” would work.  Many of them are based on neuroscience.  Expose a group of consumers to a product while giving them a brain scan.  That shows what areas of the brain are lighting up.  There are other tools that are used—blood pressure, skin tests, eye tracking, and all sorts of biofeedback mechanisms.  The results help marketers see what works literally by seeing inside our brains.

Note to Managers: Stop Making Decisions

Photo courtesy of istockphoto/peskymonkey

This is a guest post by Dennis Bakke. Dennis is the CEO of Imagine Schools and the author of The Decision Maker: Unlock the Potential of Everyone in Your Organization, One Decision at a Time (Pear Press)..

The conventional wisdom on leadership: Get advice from others but make the final decision. But in today’s shifting global marketplace, it’s out of date. More and more, success in business isn’t about producing the proverbial widget, but unlocking human potential. Success isn’t about rigid systems that guide our people as they churn out product. It’s about how we release our people to innovate, at every stage of the game.

As a young leader, I followed the conventional wisdom. I might ask a couple of people for some input before I made a decision. But I made the final call, always.

Success is about how we release people to innovate, at every stage of the game. -Dennis Bakke

It didn’t take me long to realize that the more decisions I made, the less engaged others became.  They didn’t have any control over the process or the results. So they didn’t feel any ownership in them either.

The problem was me. To be a good leader, I had to let go.

The reality is that it is the boss who is often the last to know. So when bosses, department leaders or team leaders make all the decisions, they’re often operating with stale or second-hand information, some of which has been edited or sanitized on its way to “the boss.”

A Bug’s Life Guide to Decision-Making

Photo by fly again on flickr.

Remember the brilliant animated movie A Bug’s Life?  (Disclaimer for animated purists: I haven’t watched the movie in a few years, so this is my mind’s interpretation, which may be technically inaccurate.)

There’s a scene shot next to a camper van.  It’s a quiet evening.  You hear the night sounds of all of the insects chirping and buzzing.  It’s a peaceful evening.

You then see a bug light glowing in the background.  Two bugs are talking as they fly in the area of the light.  One starts to go closer to the light when the other one calls out, “don’t look at the light!”  His bug friend, continuing to move closer to the light, says “I can’t help it.  It’s so beautiful!”

Seconds later you wince as you hear the inevitable buzzing sound and see the flashing light.  The bug screams as the bug light does its job and kills the insect.

The bug light.  Or, as this website calls it, the “electrical-discharge insect-control system.”  It’s designed to rid your outdoors of annoying insects.

So many times in life what may look good isn’t in our best interest.  The key question is how do you distinguish between genuine opportunity and a disaster.  And that discernment isn’t always easy.  What can help guide you?