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Cowboys or Nerds: Getting the Balance Right

October 12, 2015


Making good, consistent and timely decisions are obviously a critical component to business success. Those charged with making these decisions are as varied as the situations that they face, however most people picture two distinct styles. On one hand there's the intuitive, 'gut-feel' approach and on other the data heavy, analytical style.


So do all decision makers fall into one of these categories and most importantly, which approach is best?


Cowboys vs Nerds

Let's explore these two styles in a little more detail.


On one hand, there’s the ‘gut feel’ Cowboy, someone with the ability to immediately assess a situation and make a decision based on their intuition. The cowboy is decisive, fast and efficient however is often criticised for not fully considering all impacts of a decision. 


Then there’s the analytical nerd, someone who requires mountains of data, graphs and reports to inform a decision. The nerd is rational, methodical and calculated but often achieves this through consuming considerable resources.


Clearly both groups have their strengths and weaknesses, so what kind of decision maker should we be trying to emulate? Perhaps the answer is neither, and infact decision makers fall into two different categories – good decision makers and bad.


What are the attributes of good decision makers?

There are some universal attributes that are present in all good decision makers. Firstly, they make the best decision more often than not (obvious I know), they have the relevant subject matter expertise, consult where required and use the appropriate amount of information to inform their decision making.


This last point is particularly important and is the common argument against the 'nerd' described above. We can all think back to an instance where countless hours of time and energy were invested into making a decision where the solution was clear all along. Or even worse, when no decision was made at all. Knowing when a situation requires a 'cowboy' or a 'nerds' approach may be the most important attribute of a good decision maker.


Mastering the Balancing Act

Understanding the relevant source and amount of information required, is all about fully understanding the decision at hand. For example, would you require the same information to make a decision on the tomorrow's overtime requirements as you would when considering whether to construct a new manufacturing plant? The key here is to take into account the impact and importance of the decision, to inform how much analysis should be performed.


A great technique to achieve this is to identify the critical factors within a decision. In our manufacturing plant scenario, there would be countless factors to consider before making a final decision, however clearly some will be more important than others. Alignment to a long-term growth strategy is likely to be more important than a minor increase in warehousing cost. By dissecting a problem this way, the person responsible can focus their attention on tackling the most important considerations instead of getting bogged down in never-ending analysis. 


The Nerdy Cowboy: The Aspirational State

Good decision makers hold a number of attributes, not least of which is the considered use of data and analytics based on the challenge at hand. There will always be debate over how much and what type of information is appropriate, however everyone would agree that collating, manipulating and communicating the information should not be the most difficult part. Best practice organisations have systems and processes in place that ensure the majority of of the decision making process is on interpreting information that informs decisions, and not on endless 'number crunching'.


Upside Business Consulting specialises in providing analytical solutions to facilitate fast, agile and effective decision making.

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