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Fear Based Decisions

Most of us aren't good decision makers. We make decisions based on emotion rather than facts, and for many decisions the top most emotion is fear. As I pause at mid life to assess where I've been and where I want to go, in almost every case I regret making decisions based on fear/worry. That's not to say you shouldn't listen to your instincts, but it's a good idea to understand how you reacting to a situation. It requires introspection and that in turn requires courage, but more on that another day!

Here's an example; once upon a time I was managing a team that needed to pick from two technical solutions. One was older and proven, the other was newer and reasonably proven. Ultimately both were capable of solving the problem, and acquisition cost was the same either way. Implementation cost also looked to be a wash, but who can know? As I looked at the decision I came down in favor of the older/slightly richer solution, but it was a 51% kind of decision. I had a guy on my team that was very technology savvy, and he really - I mean really - flared up about the decision. Gave me pause, after all it wouldn't be the first time I made a bad decision. I set aside some time to chat with him about it, explained my decision process, and asked if he could show me any point that would really make it decisive to go the other way (because if it's a coin toss, just do it and go). As the conversation evolved, it turned out he had a ton of experience with the newer solution, absolutely zero with the older solution. I asked him to spend two hours to build a "hello world" type implementation using the old technology, and when he returned, he was a changed man! He was able to see then why it was such a close call, and actually saw some things in it that he thought would reduce our implementation time.

I was lucky that time, I found out by accident about the fear induced bias. He didn't want to be a "senior" guy and have to admit he knew nothing about something that he thought he should (I didn't have that expectation, but he didn't know that). Would it have mattered if I changed my mind and went with the other technology? Maybe or maybe not, but it was a lesson I really needed to learn. This is the kind of thing that gives managers and business owner the shakes; you want input based on experience and knowledge, but all too often the decision is based on something else entirely. It's also why it's important to frame decisions correctly - what are the deciding factors and how do are they weighted?

You don't have to tell the world about your fear of falling behind, not knowing enough, worried that they are working you out of a job, whatever - but admit it to yourself. Do you really want to make fear based decisions? How can you offset the risks and still make a good choice?

If you read the books on decision making one of the big items is that most people think they are better at making decisions than they really are. I'm hoping that's not true for me any longer, because I know I've blown quite a few calls so far!


I'm Andy Warren, currently a SQL Server trainer with End to End Training. Over the past few years I've been a developer, DBA, and IT Director. I was one of the original founders of SQLServerCentral.com and helped grow that community from zero to about 300k members before deciding to move on to other ventures.


Posted by Steve Jones on 27 February 2009

I'm sure I've made a lot of these, heck probably make some of these still.

It's a good point to make, and be aware of. I'm not sure how easy it is to avoid making decisions out of fear, but recognizing that you might be doing it is a good place to start.

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