Five Decision Making Traps to Avoid

There has been a lot written about decision making and what goes into the process. Bad decisions made by businesses get scrutinized repeatedly – they even become urban legends. Here are several examples: Ross Perot passed on buying Microsoft for $50 million in 1979; IBM allowed Microsoft to retain the copyright of the DOS operating system.

 In 1999, Excite (a popular search engine in the 90s) passed on purchasing Google for $750,000; Western Union turned down purchasing the telephone patent for $100,000; In 1970, NBC and CBS passed on Monday Night Football; and, last but not least, Edwin Drake failed to file a patent for his oil drilling process in 1858 (he developed the process of using pipes to keep water away from the drill bits and ushered in the modern oil business). 

Here are five traps that can happen during the decision-making process: 

  1. The First Idea Trap. We tend to like the first idea we hear. So, the first idea that supports or confirms our own biases becomes something we like and start to favor. We are quick to close our minds to other opportunities or thoughts because we base our judgments on one key idea we like.
  2. The Status Quo Trap. We are creatures of habit and comfort. Change is hard and, many times, we will continue with the current system of doing things, without challenging the “why.” Unfortunately, in a dynamic market, change is continuously happening and to survive and be successful, change must happen. 
  3. “We Have Come This Far” Trap. When a business has sunk time and resources into an idea or product, and it is just not working, the attitude is, “We have come this far, why quit now?” This is one of the toughest spots to be in when we have to make a decision. It is hard to stop in the middle. Amazon was able to stop. It pulled out of New York City for its HQ2 operations, after investing millions, when it saw mounting resistance and push back on the incentives the city and state were willing to give.
  4. The Limited Collection of Information Trap. When we get so enamored with a particular decision, we only gather the information that supports our conclusions. We become blinded to other facts and possibilities because we don’t look deeply enough at alternatives or facts. 
  5. How the Opportunity is Presented Trap. How an opportunity or problem is framed and presented can drive the decision-making process. Asking “why” and drilling down for a more and better understanding is critical. Getting a fuller and more significant picture is a crucial step in avoiding this trap. Don’t limit yourself in how you look at a problem or opportunity. Don’t be afraid of your ignorance; use it to your advantage by exploring options. 

These are five easy traps to fall into when trying to make decisions. Recognizing your thinking and decision-making processes can help you avoid making bad decisions. Of course, the right decisions never stand out like the bad decisions that become legends. 

With perfect information, we make perfect decisions. However, we never have perfect information. Work hard to avoid the traps.