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Justifying Decisions
by Rod Johnson

Well you see Norm, it’s like this. A herd of buffalo can only move as fast as the slowest buffalo. And when the herd is hunted, it’s the slowest and weakest ones at the back that are killed first. This natural selection is good for the herd as a whole, because the general speed and health of the whole group keeps improving by the regular killing of the weakest members. In much the same way, the human brain can only operate as fast as the slowest brain cells. Excessive intake of alcohol, as we know, kills brain cells. But naturally, it attacks the slowest and weakest brain cells first. In this way, regular consumption of beer eliminates the weaker brain cells, making the brain a faster and more efficient machine. That’s why you always feel smarter after a few beers.
—Excerpt from the TV series, Cheers

Have you ever noticed how adept we are at justifying our decisions? Have you ever pondered why justifying decisions is so important to our image? Are justifying decisions a Darwinian thing?

Over the years, I’ve noticed how people can justify just about any position they want while, at the same time, making it appear that it’s the right decision. If Cliff from Cheers fame can illustrate how beer makes a person smarter, then anything appears possible.

Yet it’s this mentality that potentially gets us and our businesses in trouble--because justifying a bad decision never made it right and justifying a good decision never made it better.

Decisions—good, bad or indifferent are just that, they’re decisions. But more importantly, how we make decisions is a reflection upon ourselves, how we view the world and how we would like the world to be. Ultimately, our decisions define our organizations and us. The decisions we make provide critical insights such as:

• How much evidence do we require before we make a decision that might affect a wide range of people?

• How do we determine which decisions are important enough for our consideration?

• How do we confront the limits of our knowledge, yet be able to deal with our own uncertainty about the present or future?

• How do the decisions we make define what risks are acceptable and which are not?

When we make a decision, we inevitably tell the world how we make decisions and ultimately how we justify our decisions. I can remember my days in the dot.com era. Decisions seemed easy when you had $10 million in reserves and the perception that another $50 million would be available when that ran out. A decision made in haste was perceived as superior to one made slowly and deliberately. As dot.com companies made decisions, they defined how the new world of e-commerce would be and what they would like it to be. Eventually, the investment community told these firms that they justified decisions for all the wrong reasons and financing dried up.

Whether we realize it or not, we talk our own particular universe into existence. It’s done with passion and language that makes it come alive for us and those around us. In this universe, we justify the decisions we’ve made. Justifying decisions is one thing, making good decisions is quite another. In today’s rapidly changing marketplace, business leaders must make better decisions by challenging their own decisions rather than justifying their decisions into existence.

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