To make my life simpler, over time I have created a number of tools and rules of thumb to help me make decisions faster or move on in my work. One of these tools I use frequently is what I call the five minute rule.
A firm I worked for in the late 90s grew very fast. Over a three year period I probably interviewed over 300 people. I gained a lot of experience interviewing people and seeing the people I recommended for a job in action. After a few years of interviewing people I created the five minute rule. Basically it's this: While interviewing someone I try to decide in five minutes if I want to extend an offer to that person. If my answer is yes, then I spend a good portion of the rest of my interview trying to understand what it will take to bring the person on board. If my answer is no, I try to allow the candidate to redeem themselves and give them questions that can help me decide to change my mind. This method has worked well for me, not withstanding a few hiring errors here and there.
What I did not understand until last night was that I had established in my own mind the amount of information I needed to begin making a decision. I went with some friends to see Malcolm Gladwell, who wrote The Tipping Point and Blink. In Blink, his latest book, Gladwell evaluates how people make quick decisions based on less than complete evidence, and the risks and opportunities that present themselves in making decisions like that. What I took away from his talk were two things: first, people do make good decisions with over a short period of time with little information if they have a lot of experience in the topic, and two, most of us have biases that color our decision making that we may not even be aware of.
What I like about this is to a certain extent it validates "gut" instinct and quick decision making if you have deep experience about the decision you are making. I have often argued that continually collecting more and more information about a decision rarely makes a decision any better, it often just delays the decision we would have made hours or days ago. I think its important to get all the information you NEED in order to make a decision, and when you've reached that point, to make the decision and move on. The problem is the amount of information needed for a decision to be made is different for different people. A person brand new at their job or unfamiliar with the circumstances will need more information to feel comfortable with a decision, while a long time expert can make a very quick judgement.
What this says is that when we are working with others we need to know the absolute minimum amount of information that is required for the group to decide if the decision must be made by a team or group. If the team is composed of people who have not worked together before and who are only somewhat familiar with the information and objectives, the team will need a lot of information to make a decision, much to the despair of the "expert" on the team. If an expert is called in to make the decision, often he or she will find the information necessary has been in the team's hands all along, but none of them had enough experience to know it.
My personal tool is the five minute rule. I'm interested to see if others of you have similar tools or have other tools, tricks or rules of thumb you use when determining you have enough information to make a decision. If you are a reader and you have a method, a rule of thumb or some other method to determine when you've got "enough" information, please send it along to me, either in the comments or via email. My email is posted on the home page of the blog. Thanks.
PS - in case you are wondering and have read this far, I think The Tipping Point is probably a better book.