How Decisions Get Made

“Crying is all right in its way while it lasts. But you have to stop sooner or later, and then you still have to decide what to do.” 

CS Lewis – extract from ‘Deciding‘.


Every living soul makes decisions. Every day.

Decisions are made to take advantage of opportunities and so advance the Decider’s purpose (or that of their organisation). Decisions are the means of achieving a beneficial outcome. It works like this:

How Purpose is pursued (taken from ‘Deciding‘)

However, the outcome of a decision is not always what the Decider intended. Assumptions – an unavoidable part of all decisions – might prove to be invalid. This includes the assumption that implementation will be as the Decider intended.

How decisions can lead to variable outcomes (taken from ‘Deciding‘)

Not all sources of uncertainty can be avoided (if only because the cost of doing so might be unduly high, especially for a relatively unimportant decision). 

The Challenges

The challenge for the Decider is therefore to be sufficiently certain about the outcomes according to their importance. But how to do that – is a different method of deciding needed?

Interestingly, the answer is no! Whether Deciders realise or not, all decisions are made using a common (or universal) method. The ‘universal method of decision-making’ as described in Deciding is an iterative approach involving

  • conversations;
  • generating options (i.e. tentative decisions);
  • understanding the nature and significance of the related assumptions;
  • recognising sources of uncertainty;
  • adjusting the options as necessary by reducing uncertainty or allowing for its effects;
  • monitoring implementation to detect variance in either implementation, outcomes or assumptions over the life of the decision. 

This universal method is applied by all Deciders but with varying levels of awareness and skill. This explains why some decisions produce what is intended and some don’t. 

Whether a Decider is a Prime Minister, a Director, CEO, frontline worker or individual citizen, Deciding will help them become more aware of how they are making decisions and, through its detailed guidance, allow them to affirm or enhance their applications of the Universal Method. 

Organisations of any type and their Deciders can, therefore, expect to benefit from becoming aware in an objective way of the likely success of present practice with respect to what its Deciders know about decision-making and what, currently, they do. Please see here, a general diagnostic tool that organisation can use to usefully indicate both the state of decision-making in general and provide a focus for efforts to improve.

A recorded interview

Grant Purdy was interviewed by Alex Sidorenko about decision-making in 2019. Alex describes it as “the most amazing risk management interview … ever..”

“I am not exaggerating, this is a must listen for all risk managers. Yes, I know, the sound is really bad and I am sorry for the technology. Grow up and endure the pain. This will be the most fulfilling 50 minutes in your professional risk management career.”

Alex Sidorenko, 2019

” You can hear this conversation and read the transcript here.