Can Too Much Data Make Decision-making More Difficult?

decisionsTraditionally, many people thought that if they had more data, they could make better decisions.

But we’re all familiar, no doubt, with the taunting acronym, “TMI” (Too Much Information!) that is commonly directed at those who “over-share” personal details. Similarly, in today’s business world,  the flood of data can make many decisions more complex… and the decisions made by considering all of this data are not always better!

Sometimes, because there is so much data to consider and evaluate, people can easily become overwhelmed; or over-think each decision, thus slowing-down or compromising decision-making processes.

As author Christopher Frank stated in a Forbes article, “The irony is we have more information available, but we feel less informed.”

If this sounds familiar, you might consider these five critical steps to improving your organization’s decision making process for complex decisions:

  1. Start with a clear goal or objective.
  2. Widen the alternatives you are considering… as the French philosopher, Emile Cartier, put it, “There is nothing more dangerous than an idea, when it is the only one you have.”
  3. Know what you know and what you don’t know. Behavior economists assert that human beings are wired to give much more weight to information we have than to information we do not have and by doing so, we miscalculate our risks and opportunities. It is important to seek missing information as well as available information with equal zeal, and to make a special effort to look for dis-confirming information as well.
  4. Achieve distance & perspective before deciding by maintaining a healthy emotional distance. Bringing in other perspectives, suppliers, customers, and other stakeholders can help provide different perspectives on the decision to be made.
  5. Take a hard look at the uncertainty. One way to combat uncertainty is to figure out what you do know and use that to “bookend” the decision: what would be the outcome if all the bets go against you, and what would it look like if everything fell into place. This can help you evaluate if there is more upside opportunity or downside risk.

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