Making Better Decisions

Making Better Decisions

By Dr. Merle Riepe

Judgment and decision-making – we are questioning a lot in 2020. Global pandemic, race relations, and politics have created a lot of fear and uncertainty. Fear and uncertainty complicate and interfere with good decisions. Those feelings, along with most negative feelings, engage our “system one” thinking – the limbic system. When the midbrain is in charge, we evaluate problems quickly and choose among three options: fight, flight, or freeze. Rarely are decisions of this nature aligned with profitability, innovation, or engagement. Hence, we need to move our decision processing out of our midbrain and into our prefrontal cortex and the executive function of our brain. Recently, I came across two resources, which I believe you will find helpful in engaging the executive function more readily. (Note: these are in addition to the mental pause I wrote about in a previous blog, which I believe is critical to engage first and foremost).


The first resource is a five-minute video titled “2, 4, 8.” Here is the link:


A former “student” (when I was teaching SHRM’s certification prep courses), shared this video in response to an earlier blog I wrote regarding cognitive bias. Without spoiling the video for you, it highlights the importance of the scientific method in decision making. And guess what? The scientific method is not nearly as “sciencey” as one might think. Science is built upon getting to no. By understanding that which is not, we can learn what might be. Five minutes of this video will give you a better appreciation for this concept. Implication: As we make decisions, we must be diligent in seeking out the opposite of what we believe to be true.


“Getting to know” is my personal secret to successfully evaluating talent and why our clients tend to have better success hiring than their competition. I am hired to help determine how or why a candidate may not be successful. My clients are looking to me to disprove their belief that the candidate is great. When I uncover something, it adds to their data and makes for a more accurate decision. Most other companies focus the hiring process on seeking information that confirms their belief that the candidate is great. As a result, these companies struggle with unnecessary turnover and poor engagement.


The second resource is an article about “crowd wisdom” and the Surprisingly Popular method ( One challenge with democratic decisions is that the specialized few, who have the deepest knowledge on a topic, can be cancelled out by the “ignorance of the masses.” Hence, we would do well to create ways to identify the specialized few and weigh their input more heavily. Implication: When seeking input on a decision, ask two questions to the “crowd” to weigh the options more appropriately.

  1. What is the correct answer?
  2. What do you think popular opinion will be?


Consider work from home policies, which many companies are reconsidering amidst the pandemic. You would do well to ask key stakeholders if they believe working from home indefinitely will increase profitability. Then ask each of them how many other key stakeholders they believe will agree that working from home will be more profitable. If the number of responses diverge (i.e., more people believe others will agree versus do agree), your work from home strategy likely merits additional discussion. (For more examples, please read the article).


I hope you find these two techniques useful in solving your hardest problems. Best wishes in your efforts to find the “truth.” If you are interested in learning other techniques to improve your decision-making and/or reputation, check out our Executive Coaching services.