Here’s a thought – who has the better capacity for making good decisions, a brain surgeon or a stand-up comic? This is not entirely academic – I’m often challenged to assess how good an individual’s ability to make decisions is, despite hugely different backgrounds, professions, and education.  

I hope and expect that brain surgeons are a low-risk bunch, driven by decades-long training informed by precedent, protocol and best practice. A good decision is following decision paths pre-programmed with years of training to minimise risk – the survival/happiness of the patient (or not) is a by-product.

Stand-up comedians, I expect, pride themselves on a free-wheeling risk-taking approach aimed at delighting an audience with unexpected twists and impromptu engagement. The prospect of falling flat (mistake) is an occupational hazard of taking risks in the face of constantly changing audiences.

We rarely work with surgeons or comedians, but the stark contrast serves to illustrate the lens through which we assess decision-making in different environments. From our perspective, the outcome should be divorced from evaluating if a decision was good.

The brain surgeon can go rogue, cut corners, with no precedent (other than saving time) and the patient survives (lucky). The comic can follow a tried and tested formula that worked for his Glaswegian audience last year and yet face a wall of silence when he returns (enter tumbleweed).  The point is bad decisions can have good results and vice versa. The problem with hindsight is it completely distorts our view of how good or bad our thinking was at the time.


What we see consistently in great decision-makers is their ability to learn from ‘mistakes’. They can discuss a wonderful, complex & insightful decision-making process they are proud of that resulted in pain. Matter of fact. The process divorced from the outcome. It’s not easy to be this objective but it allows an amazing feedback loop devoid of ego, fear, or panic – all of which lead to weaker and weaker outcomes.

In brief, don’t let the mistake define you, or to that extent, your success. Dwelling on outcomes alone can amplify the problems we were trying to solve.

A little leftfield but having posed the question hypothetically set me thinking (professional curiosity!) who has the best capacity for decision-making? 
I’m going with comedians (globally smart!) – they’ve had far more opportunities to develop through try-fail feedback loops.

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