Making Right Choices: Art or Science?

Summing Up Is choice an art or science? Jim Heskett's readers wonder whether the question is the right one to ask. (Online forum has closed; next forum opens January 6.)
by Jim Heskett

Summing Up

Thoughtful comments are hard to summarize in five paragraphs. That explains why this month's task is impossible. But one thing unites nearly everyone responding to this column, and that is one kind of objection or other to the question: Is choosing an art or science?

Many concluded that it is both, depending on such things as the level of complexity, stage of the decision-making process, the purpose of the decision, the context in which the choice is made, whether we are deciding or rationalizing the decisions we've already made, or our personal makeup. Shadreck Saili notes that answers to the question depend on "the magnitude and complexity of the choices to be made…" Yedendra Chouksey and S. Huang appear to agree that, in the words of Chouksey, "creation of choices is more of an art … and evaluation (of alternatives) a science." Kamal Gupta sorted it out this way: Decisions on personal matters carry a greater weight of art; those that relate to work have more of science. Frances Pratt commented, "It is often the art … that allows us to imagine that we are indeed making a controlled, scientific choice…. We often use art to justify those choices that don't turn out the way that we intend." Reminding us of the importance of personal makeup, Michelle commented, "Indeed, we are our choices!" Stephen Basikoti concluded that "Choosing … cannot be boxed…. All we can do is use science to understand the uncertainly of choosing … while using art to sharpen the intuitiveness that goes into the moment of choice."

Others maintained that choosing is neither an art nor a science. Laurence McKinney said, "We ultimately base our decisions on 'feelings'" and emotions, aided by such things as quality of memory and the amount of information one can access through "hookup density" in the brain. Paul Nicholas agreed, "We tend to make choices and decisions based on feelings; our consciousness then starts to explain or rationalize the choice to ourselves and others." Tom Dolemba commented that decisions are made from spirit, and that "with science comes anonymity … with art comes denial … a real decision is delivered from the soul."

The science of choosing was characterized as what business does to influence consumers. Gerald Nanninga calls it "ego management," the science of giving people (consumers in this case) "a feeling of power" and "of being 'special'." As Dave G puts it, "companies are becoming (good) at making a very aware person like myself make the decision they want me to make." He asks whether the study of "decision making is actually hurting our society rather than helping?"

Whatever choosing may be, several commented on the importance of timing. As Phil Clark put it, "The longer you take to make a decision … the further away you are from the reality that exists at this moment." Partha Chatterjee added, "A delayed decision, no matter the greatness of it, loses its sheen."

The importance of all of these questions and response is framed by C. J. Cullinane when he says, "choice … equals freedom." Is choosing more than an art and science? What do you think?

Original Article

Decision-making, at its heart, involves a series of choices. Neuropsychologists tell us that the human brain can comfortably deal with only a limited number of alternatives (seven plus or minus two, according to a number of studies). Fields like decision theory were developed to help humans organize their thinking so that alternative actions could be arrayed according to their attractiveness, expressed in quantitative terms.

Recently, brain-scan technology has enabled researchers to associate choice and decision-making with various parts of the brain. This may be why choice comes up frequently as a favorite subject of authors interested in explaining rational or irrational behavior. We have covered the topic in our previous discussions of Malcolm Gladwell's Blink and Barry Schwartz's The Paradox of Choice--which advises decision-makers to "choose when to choose; satisfice more and maximize less; make your decisions nonreversible; regret less; control expectations; and learn to love constraints in order to cope with uncertainty and avoid depression."

Now the genre includes another book, which has made several Top Ten of 2010 lists: Sheena Iyengar's The Art of Choosing. In it, Iyengar explores choices we make as consumers of products and services, many of which she has observed in her numerous experiments. Her definition of choice is "the ability to exercise control over ourselves and our environment. In order to choose, we must first perceive that control is possible."

She concludes that:

  • Choice is desirable, but only up to a point. Beyond that, it becomes confusing to a decision-maker.
  • Choice on the job can have varying effects on our health, depending in part on our need for choice.
  • Choice is often influenced by the way alternatives are presented and by the people presenting them, even when the merit of one alternative is clearly superior to others.
  • A natural aversion to loss leads us to make irrational choices that minimize it.
  • Choices may be expressly made to enable us to conform to the behaviors or perceptions of others (as in 360-degree evaluations) in relation to our perceptions of ourselves.
  • The order in which we encounter options affects our choice (the first and last interviewed in hiring, for example, have an advantage, explaining why "traditional interviews are actually one of the least useful tools for predicting an employee's future success").
  • The importance of choice varies from one culture to another, particularly between "individualist" (where it is more important) and "collectivist" societies. This means that no one approach to organizing and motivating people works well globally.
  • Choice is especially difficult when it is between two roughly equally good or bad alternatives, which is often the case that managers confront.

The rapidly growing number of alternatives in our lives is a particular challenge for those wishing to make good choices. What are we to do? We can put Schwartz's advice to work. We can trust some decisions to our educated mental "reflexes," as Gladwell suggests. Iyengar adds that, as individuals, we can relax our need for control over choice processes and make more and more choices automatically or out of habit. As managers of companies, we can limit product or service alternatives or provide incentives in order to facilitate customer choice with fewer regrets.

According to Iyengar, "… choosing helps us create our lives. We make choices and are in turn made by them. Science can assist us in becoming more skillful choosers, but at its core, choice remains an art."

Is choosing really an art? Or is it, or can it become, a science? What do you think?

To read more:

Dan Ariely, Predictably Irrational (New York: Harper, 2008)

Malcolm Gladwell, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2005)

Sheena Iyengar, The Art of Choosing (New York: Hachette Book Group, 2010)

Jonah Lehrer, How We Decide (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2009)

Barry Schwartz, The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less (New York: Harper Perennial, 2004)

    • Mike Flanagan
    • Purchasing Manager
    Choices or options are good in general, but can be more problematic, create a higher level of anxiety and even add costs with no value added.
    Depending on the situation, a choice can be artful or scientific. What's for dinner is an artful choice, while paying a bill is more of a science. And then comes the decision to buy a car, both artful and scientific.
    Choosing can be the down fall of many, where they start to analyze all options. You have movement when deciding to choose, but not necessarily action.
    • Frances Pratt
    • Director, Metisan
    Art or science or perhaps a little of both.
    As humans we like to think that we can control things and that our choices matter. In reality, despite the science that we apply, as Mike says, to important decisions like buying a car, we are still left with imperfect information with which to make the decision. Life is in fact chaos and despite our attempts to contain and control it, it continues to be chaotic. It is often the art then that allows us to imagine that we are indeed making a controlled, scientific choice.
    Our choices do matter and do shape our lives, but in my experience as an entrepreneur it is often the 'wrong' choices that are in fact the most memorable and instructive in shaping our lives. We often use art to justify those choices that don't turn out the way that we intend, in explaining them to ourselves and others.
    As scientists we should analyse both the before and after structures of the decision, to instruct us on the most important part - which, in my opinion, is our own influence on the experiment itself. This is how we learn and grow.
    • Fidel M. Arcenas
    • TIEZA - Philippines
    Making a choice or decision is both art and science. Through the years, decision-making models for leaders and managers of organizations have been developed. While some models are apparently effective in certain cases, they merely serve as guides at reaching the "right" choice or decision. Contingency models, like the Vroom-Yetton-Jago, provide the frameworks for situation-based decision-making. But, as Stuart Grainer pointed out in The 75 Greatest Management Decisions Ever Made, managers base their decisions "on a combination of intuition, experience, and analysis." The interplay of science and art in decision-making is what makes it truly challenging and exciting.
    • CJ Cullinane
    The amount of choices/decisions that we make daily is far greater than the choices our parents and grandparents had to make on a daily basis. From the amount of media decisions such as hundreds of cable channels, websites, and 'mailings' to the vast amount of product choices at our local stores we have become innundated with hundreds of small choices daily.

    In order to manage all the choices and mini-decisions we have to make I believe we use habit more and more to handle the load. Decision making is an art as well as a science but time has become very valuable to us so we use marketing and advertising to make our decisions.

    Even for larger decisions with greater cost we often rely on what we feel other people have done; they make the decision for us. Is this the way to do it? I do not believe it is. I think we have to return to questioning choices and what the impact of the choice is on our lives and businesses.

    Good choices and decisions equels a successful life (and organization) and choice also equels freedom. Take the time to make good choices and decisions and the results will be rewarding.

    • S. Huang
    • IT manager, J&J
    Finding what are the alternatives is an art. Making the choice from the alternatives is a science.
    • T Gale
    • TGale Training
    I think it is important to differentiate our approach to how and mostly why we make decisions between work/professional and life/recreational contexts. We do not always need to justify our decisions that we make for ourselves and therefore can apply an artistic approach whereas in the professional/managerial world we must be able to dissect, examine and explain every choice, decision and action. Also with an artistic approach the method of learning from our mistakes is more trial and error but with a more scientific decision-making process it is possible to discover where our perceptions were skewed that resulted in an incorrect choice.

    Sounds like a new book: "Creative Decision Making."
    • Phil Clark
    • Clark & Associates
    We make choices thinking we have control....or that we can control the world around us. Sadly, we are for the most part just along for the ride. I worked with crisis for over 35 years and no matter how prepared you think you are, unexpected and uncontrollable situations arise. The key to success was to quickly adapt to the reality of the situation and make decisions that assured survival and not worry about the trivial and unimportant.

    We often paralyze ourselves with indecision when faced with too many options. We sometimes freeze in place when we have no options (or cannot think of any in an instant). That is the reality of life. I have seen companies process decisions through all forms of methods and machinations and fail. Mainly because everything was based on what was...not what is happening today. The longer you take to make a decision...the further away you are from the reality that exists at this moment. You cannot recapture or stop time. Time forces your hand.

    Bottom line...Those people who are good at making decisions...make decisions. They may use intuition (what they have learned over many years) or science (data, models or processes) but those who are really good at making decisions anticipate what might occur and prepare themselves with options as best as possible.

    Art or Science? Both. Neither is successful alone.
    • Lester D'Cruz
    • Founder and Principal Analyst, LinkedBIZ Labs
    Making Right Choices: Art or Science?
    A key term in this statement need to be understood. "Right": Is this a universally fact that is indisputable always and everywhere? If so, making a choice that is "right" can be a Science if the tools are evolved to measure the outcome and demonstrate it as many times as needed.
    Clearly time and space do not cooperate enough to make the outcomes of choice so predictable i.e always and everywhere. If not science, what we are left with then is a social science, where context and meaning influence the rightness or goodness of a decision. In decision-making, a predictable outcome is aimed for always, but the actual outcome is not only delayed in time but may even be judged for goodness in a completely different context by different players.
    • Dave G
    • Engineer
    There is a science behind every decision, we are just not capable or smart enough to understand how every decision matrix works yet. However, we are not far off. Take, for example, how good companies are becoming at making a very aware person like myself make the decision they want me to make - it's scary. They know more about me than I even know about me. Watch out for future TV's to have retinal scanners that will pick up if I'm craving a hamburger and cut instantly to a McDonald's commercial. I wonder if the study of decision making is actually hurting our society rather than helping. Chew on that.
    • Om
    • GM sales,
    To me , it is an art .

    Inheritenly we do the way we are always doing. We make choice we like not rational or irrational. However choices we make could be always more rational or irrational depending on how we alwats do. Science may be in the background , but in the front is an art.
    An art of the artist is to show the art and concel the artist.
    • David Z
    Choice is science, art and then science.

    As Schwatz, Gladwell, Ariely and the many experiments of Daniel Kahneman attest there is definite biological science involved in decisions. To this we are forever linked.

    Without Art, we would continue to make the same choices. At some point someone has to envision a possible different choice and it can certainly be something that we've never seen, heard or have any idea whether or not it will work. We use creativity to move forward in uncharted territory.

    Science comes back in when we document outcomes and generally try to make sense out of the results of our choices. This is where real learning can begin, however once we have a result, and sometimes any result, we tend to not "think" about it anymore as we take our choices at face value again.

    And that is unfortunate, yet addressable.
    • Tom Dolembo
    • Founder, New North Institute
    I am surprised you offer only science or art. In my experience, decisions in the sense I believe you mean them are made from spirit. I have known deciders to pray, consult biblical text, "sleep on it" and dream a solution, or in a way hallucinate an outcome. A pact with the devil my explain more recent outcomes. I recall thirty years ago, in Switzerland, listening to a few prescient traders explain intercontinental trading, derivatives, and "instant" trades. They saw what did not exist and created a structure we may regret.
    With science comes anonymity, our executives are distanced from outcomes. With art comes denial, our executives paint without balance or comment. But a decision, a real decision, is delivered from the soul. I have seen many crises, some quite terrible, and decisions made during these situations are burned into the hearts of those who made them. Decision implies judgement. Science and art are false gods here. They have created an industry where all variables are determined, faceless, self-cancelling and like any common herd, leaves the decision to gravity.
    • Anonymous
    We are wrestling with the term "decision making" since increasing evidence suggests that humans don't "make" decisions based on consciousness/language processing. Behavior appears to be "decided" or triggered in milliseconds unconsciously.

    "Thinking about it" (processing it using language) comes seconds later. That's a long time.

    Unfortunately, our ancestors that had to "make decisions" about the important things in life -- did not reproduces as successfully.

    Certainly, other animals exhibit identical behaviors without benefit of language/"thinking about it."

    The term "irrational" is also turning out to be highly condescending and mainly a pop headline rhetorical device.
    • Carol Morgan
    • Career Counselor, Career Testing Planning and Management
    This article and the subsequent comments are interesting and thought-provoking, but certainly portray decision-making as a complicated process stripped of all of its human qualities.
    It's a microcosmic example of how complex everything in the world has become--from buying a gallon of milk to picking a life partner! And in many ways trying to make the absolutely perfect decision with no adverse consequences is leading to much of the world's "paralysis by analysis".
    Whatever happened to merely "deciding" and then suffering the consequences of choice? The mistakes of poor choices are often the best lessons, even better experiences than our successes.
    We are all humans put on earth to learn "lessons" and we don't learn our lessons by avoiding risks or agonizing over every little detail in life.
    If you make a regretful decision, in most cases, it can be reversed and you move on, wiser and possibly with more confidence than before--it doesn't matter if it's art or science or the man in the moon.
    • Sherpa
    Decision making is merely risk management which equates to gaming, in a sense. Gaming, of course, is neither an art nor a science.
    • Henry Maigurira
    • Executive Secretary, Pachi Develpment Foundation
    Decision making and life choices resembles who we are, our values and systems that give meaning to course of actions in what we do. Decision making to my understanding largely resides as a natural born talent in one 's knowledge and perceptions of the infinite possibilities in the universe their relevance and portability in a given set of circumstances where experimentation and analysis of results and data provide a guiding rational in which if theory is applied, one can carefully arrive at a decision that is supported and applauded by what is observable and test, and can justify by either deductible or induction reasoning

    Decision making and choices can also arise as a result of social construct when choices we make are on basis of an informed ideas from our peers to act, think, and hypothesize manifestations in a certain way over a particular course of action. Regardless the audience must still decide to accept or not.

    Descartes once said " i am who i am because i am who i know by thinking choice and decision"
    • Partha Chatterjee
    • Wholetime Director & CMO, Berggruen Hotels P. Ltd.
    To me, three decades of decision making made me realize a few basic rules - firstly, nimbleness is the key. A delayed decision no matter the greatness of it loses its sheen. Secondly, Decision making triggers two kinds of responses - sensorial because of its relation to art or practical because of its relation to science. Thirdly, there is not one response which is correct but one may be a better one depending on the timing and the circumstances.
    • shadreck saili
    • UCT
    An Art may be described as a skill or ability to do something well while a science a systematically organized body of knowledge about a particular subject or matter.

    Arguing from this perspective, making right choices is therefore both an art and science depending on factors such as
    - the magnitude and complexity of the choices to be made
    -the experience that the decision maker has over such choices to leverage his/her marginal error
    - The dynamism of the choices and other factor surrounding the choices

    As managers, directors or decision makers, we make right choices using both parameters of art and science in various combination due to the fact that our character is molded by both our natural talent or ability (resulting from art) and scientific methods( resulting from some training that we go through-formal or informal). These parameters make us a being and we exhibit these attributes unconsciously (as they become part of us)during the process of making a right choice.

    I further feel that it is the created character that enable us make choices and leave up to their consequences regardless of their pain. This brings me to the point that making right choices are not an end in themselves but a beginning of managing the consequences of the choice so that the choice taken may be meaningful. one can only leave with a decision or choice taken if during the process of making the choice you critically thought over and for you to think through,your attributes may have been derived from both art and science combination.
    • Mohammad Razipour
    • Director , Special Projects, KAYSON
    I'd like to propose that we should not limit our discussion on the subject to only "art", or "science". Factors that influence our choices are more than just science, and art. There are more subtle ingredients, and elements that work surreptitiously within us to come up with a specific choice, and despite Iyengar's definition of choice, we cannot always control them .Consider people's preference for a specific color which is translated into their choices on clothes, cars, appliances, etc. Decision making for such people would be rather automated mutatis mutandis other facts and figures. We often talk about "personal chemistry" denoting another subjective criterion that may influence our choice for employees, spouses, friends, etc.
    Although science, e.g. fuzzy theory, can be utilized to guide and even influence the decision making of some people, but our cultural background and religious beliefs inculcate preferences within us so much so that decision making on many subjects tends to become rather automated and predetermined (independent from our possible desire to control) and therefore is narrowed down to an immediate and confident answer of "yes", or "no", or "this", or "that". Moreover, such decisions cannot always be immediately categorized as right, or wrong.
    • Kevin
    • Student, Nciae.
    If we can predict well,then decision making would be a piece of cake.But reality is not that way.So without the accurate statistics and results ,it's to a certain degree a crazy art to make choices.Since we can use some reference to help us when choosing which way to go,it's science as well.
    • Kamal Gupta
    • CEO, Edseva Software
    Decisions on personal matters have a greater weightage of art; those that relate to work have more of science.

    If I am buying a car for myself, I will, to some extent, take into consideration what the brand represents, while still giving weight to gas mileage, maintenance needs, cost of spares (total cost of ownership). But if I am buying a fleet for office, I will decide based on total cost of ownership, after taking into account hygiene factors like safety.

    Sheena's list of conclusions is right.
    • Pratima Tripathi
    • Marketing head, Reliance Life Sciences
    The art of choosing is a scientific one - one may analyse,weigh pros and cons, yet an element of creativity is the funnel through which the final choice passes.
    • Laurence McKinney
    • Director, A. Inst. for Mindfulness
    As an HBS Grad, (1969), Section Secretary, and Multiple Reunion Committee volunteer, I'm fortunate to have watched the evolution of HBS in these areas. I myself was tempted into the area of brain science many years ago, and the result (Neurotheology: Virtual Religion in the 21sr Century - is still at Amazon) The reason for my appearance in Wikipedia for coming up with a new sub-divison of theology made it clear that we're all actually cut off from "reality" by microseconds of hops and jumps through our nervous system (longer than it took the universe to expand), which is devoid of meaning unless dunked in our idiosyncratic history. In fact we are each, like Nemo in The Matrix, living in a virtual reality of our consciousness which, sort of like a Mandelbrot set, is created idiosyncratically but consistenty for each of us. It's fortunate that our DNA is so similar that we appear to be living in the same world, but not a chance. We can't get out of our bubble, an
    d nobody can get in.

    That having been said, individuals with a greater hookup density, you might say, have better memories and better predictive qualities (they access more information, and that's behind most of it) and also typically more emotional since our emotions are hormonally driven by brain activity, Here a few percentage points makes a lot of difference - Einstein's network was only 16% denser than average.

    This all having been said, and to sum: We ultimately base our decisions on "feelings". These feelings are actually the translation of a lot of memories into states of familiary or unfamiliarity ranging from fright all the way to ecstasy, but still personal and idiosyncratic. The real problem is that as memory and interconnection grow, that emotional side leads many gradually into the arts and if it gets too bad, into looney bins of course. We end up with the Howard Hughs and Cecil Rhodes types, but most of the real visionaries are personally eccentric - eg: DNA replication Nobel laureate Kerry Mullis or Celera Genomics chief Craig Ventor.

    The only answer is to find some happy medium between superior memory of relevant facts. a sensitive intuition, and if possible a Feynman sort of personality enough to take one's decision making philosophically. Some people are never going to be smart, some creative people are never going to be socialized, and only a few are interested in decision making. But backed with good research, a dispassionate ability to review and a fine intuitional judegement - any of us can be excellent at this task.
    • Dick Meza
    • Adjunct Faculty, Chapman University
    Art or science? Probably a situational mix. As we all know a problem is an obstacle to a goal. It's in the past
    tense. Decision making (DM) is in the present tense. DM
    has to start with questions; not just good questions but
    the right questions as advised in Browne & Keeleys' book "Asking the Right Questions (2001). For example, "Not do leaders make a differnce, but under
    what situations does leadership matter?" Or, "Not what
    should be taught in leadership courses, but how can
    leaders be helped to learn?" (Hackman & Wageman, 2007). Yes, foundational theories are desirable here.
    Then there's the dreaded flipside of bridging the age old gap into practical real world applications having value, usefulness, and positive bottom-line organizational
    • Paul Nicholas
    • Leadership Development Adviser, Herefordshire Council
    I think this is an interesting answer and discussion on what may be a flawed question. Making a choice is neither an art nor a science.

    Science can reveal much about the brain processes that lead to acts of choice and decision, but it does not follow that our decision making then becomes more "scientific".

    The conscious processes that precede choices or decision making may be loosely described in terms of "art" or "science" - methods of analysis for example - and there will be practitioners and proponents of both. But the choice itself will be an unconscious process - more emotional or "felt" than reasoned. We tend to make choices and decisions based on feelings, our consciousness then starts to explain or rationalise the choice to ourselves and others.

    Science can equally tell us much about falling in love - but it is unlikely to make us more "scientific" in the way we do it.
    • H N Nagaraj
    • Dy General Manager, State Bank of Mysore
    What is that I am looking for? What are the choices available? And and what cost? These are the basic frame work for choosing. But other influencing factors are his/her family, friends, peers etc., Education makes choices little complex. But one good thing about choosing that it creates a bondage between the chooser and the chosen, because at that point, it will be right choice, irrespective of the influence cast by the environment.
    • Sugeetha Kurada
    Choices influenced by reasoning, controllability, measurablity, principles,methods,disciplines etc are scientific choices.
    Choices influenced by intuition, personal likings experiences, habits etc are art.

    Whether making a right choice is art or science. What is right for me may not be right for others. What is right today may not be right tomorrow. What was right in a particular situation may/may not be right later. Being right depends on various variable like time, people, circumstances, etc and the covariance between them.

    Right choices can be absolute scientific when every variable is known and can be regulated. eg choices and decisions made at operational level. Choices at tactical and strategic levels would be mix of art and science.
    • Jay Somasundaram
    • Systems Analayst
    Be careful of reducing decision-making to a single point. For example, buying a car is the Flow of research, the empathy of family consensus building, the fireceness of bargain hunting, the smell of new car, racking up points on the status totem pole....

    What do we lose by trying to box decision-making?
    • Michelle
    • Consultant
    Indeed, we are our choices! In situations involving another partie(s), there is a "game-theoretic" element to making choices. That is, what are the other party's needs and wants, how will my various choices impact the other's needs and wants. What are my incentives to choose one way over the get the picture. In this way, choice can be a science, or an art. Actually, art is science, isn't it!
    • Sneh Asnani
    • Associate Consultant, Cognizant Technology Solutions
    Decision making is neither an art nor a science, because in life we are faced with lot of dilemmas where complex decisions are to be made. Especially when we have to make a choice between two relatively right options or two relatively wrong options. Each human being will have a different choice. The reason is that apart of quantitative factors, we also take into account our past experiences, our intuitive/subconcious mind which holds our deepest fears and insecurities. Decision making is rather a very complex and unpredictable process which will be different for different individuals.
    • Paul T. Jackson
    • Owner/Consultant, Trescott Research
    I like what Lawrence McKinney above suggests; there are some who take in information, lots of it, and recognize trends...some say they are psychic...and can basically call the future if the trends continue. Something futurists such as the late Robert Theobald (an economist) saw with regard to education more than a decade ago.

    On the other hand, science, an observing endeavor, gave us via the Russian engineer, Altshuller who developed TRIZ (Theory of Inventive Problem Solving) in the 1950s, which no one above talks about, and which the U.S. found out about only in the late 1990s when an English translation of the book was brought out. TRIZ is the process for discovering the real problems and their contradictions and optimizing a solution. The process is mostly confined to engineering, but has been adopted by some businesses.

    So depending on one's approach, making decisions can be science, or art, or some other form of decision making; eenie, meenie, miniee, mo.
    • Otto Jansen van Vuuren
    • CEO, AAMD Consultants
    It may just be possible that the "Art or Science part of decision making" is an after the event justification exercise in futility. We already know that a fungus can control the brain of a living organism "zombie ants" and get the ant to go bite on leaf and never let go. Lately reasearch has come about indicating gut bacteria could determine the choice of a life partner: American Friends of Tel Aviv University (2010, December 3). Do our bodies' bacteria play matchmaker?. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 14, 2010, from /releases/2010/12/101202124211.htm. Which leads us to the ever popular "gut feeling" that is older than some of the branches of science investigating Decision making. The question it leaves me with is: Do we know what the basic building blocks of decision making is?
    • Christopher Matinanga
    • Finance Executive, Twentymark International
    Real factors that influence decision making go beyond classes like arts or sciences. firstly, the spiritual state of a person has direct influence in their decision making whether religious or not because humans are spirit beings first and anything else after that. what we were taught in our formative years as we grew up also has some influence in our choices because it remains in the foundation of our lives. so it is not as simple as it seems to make a decision, so much goes through the mind, maybe in the sub-conscious, even in a milli-second before one makes up their mind on their choice.
    • Srinivasan
    • Director, Hewlett Packard
    I think Sheena Iyengar's finding puts it well.
    It varies from being an art to a science - depending on multiple factors...

    I saw one of the earlier comments - which said "What's right?" That I think is another dimension to this altogether... which makes it even more challenging to answer this.

    Finally, as I ponder is my choice of posting this comment an art or a science? I conclude it's a bit of both...
    • Henry Kwok
    • consultant, SPACES@Work
    i would like to be more provocative.

    what do you mean by being "right"? will then the end justify the means? if that is the case, does it matter whether the decision making is based on science or art?

    that will form what i call the narative part.

    the reality is that decision makers must have skills similar to those of a Jazz improvisor. The music scales within the chords will determine the pool of available notes
    • Gerald Nanninga
    • VP, Retail Ventures, Inc.
    People like choice because it strokes their ego in two ways. First, choice gives people a feeling of power--the power to chose (rather than the powerless feeling of just having things thrust at them without choice). Second, choice imparts the feeling of being "special"--I get to choose the option most appropriate for who I am as a unique and special individual.

    Too much choice, however, negatively attacks our ego. First, it can make us feel stupid, because we cannot easily make so many complex decisions. Second, it can make us feel unsatisfied, since in a world of infinite alternatives you have no way of knowing if you have made the best choice. Third, it can make us feel powerless, because all of the constant choosing among infinite options with infinite data overwhelms us and steals our precious time.

    Business which wish to succeed with their offerings need to provide enough choice to stroke the ego, but not so much as to destroy the ego. Is this an art or science? I suppose that depends on your point of view on whether ego management is more art or science.

    After having spent a great deal of time doing consumer research, I found that most consumer decision making comes down to a single choice--"What option is most consistent with reinforcing the values associated with my sense of self-worth?"

    So for a business, there is first the strategic art of choosing where they want to position themselves--which values to embrace and which customer segment to target (defined by self-worth reference points). Hopefully, the consumer target's reference values are consistent with the company brand values. Then comes the science of managing the ego around this position (although even here art is a huge part of the equation).
    • Philippe Gouamba
    • Vice President of Human Resources, Skyline Windows, LLC
    Making the right choices - Art or Science?

    This is quite a fascinating topic and it reminds me of discussions on the existential philosophy of Camus and J. P. Sartre.

    Here is what comes to my mind:

    Medicine - art or science? Each patient is different.
    Driving a stick-shift - art or science? Each bend in the road is approached differently on each lap.
    Painting a portrait - art or science? Each experience is different.

    If an automaton can do it ten thousand times, emotionlessly and get the same result each time, it is SCIENCE.
    If a decision involves a judgment call and deep personal satisfaction, where a human does it 10,000 times and gets varying results, it is ART! Just imagine DaVinci painting the Mona Lisa over and over, the paintings would differ based on how the artist felt at the time he was stroking the canvas. ART!

    I think the question that we are posed with this month misses the mark. Any one can make a choice or a decision based on facts, guesses, gut feelings, experience, knowledge and other factors. If we had infinitely accurate information decision making would still not be a science because a human being would still have to bring to bear their risk tolerance, their desperation (pressure to perform applied by upper management and bosses) and their creativity into the equation of decision making.
    I think the more important aspect of decision making is the rapidly disappearing "art" of taking responsibility. If more executives were forced to "own-up" to their decisions and their outcomes, maybe they would put more thought into decision-making. They may actually care about how their decisions affect the lives of other human beings or the Earth's fragile environment that we all have to live in, or the quality of life of future generations.

    Good decision-making is about "stewardship" and creating a legacy of good tough decisions that one can proudly defend and take responsibility for. shoving I step down from my soap box...
    • Yedendra Chouksey
    • Professor, International School of Business & Media, India
    A choice derived from pure scientific methods is unexciting, has predictable outcomes and suffers from bounded rationality. An art-based choice employing creativity, inspiration, insight or intuition is thrilling, gives immense delight when successful and teaches a great lesson in life when it fails..
    However, the choice between art and science is not straight--it depends on contingent factors like complexity level of the situation, the number of alternatives to choose from and the stage of the process of choosing. In organisations decisions at lower levels of management are rational, at tactical levels mostly rational using sophisticated tools of operations research and at strategic levels artistic. When too many choices are available, evaluation based on well-identified parameters leads to a proper choice. At the process stage, creation of choices is more of an art (for example, brain storming) and evaluation a science.
    However, best decisions at .strategic should have a blend of both--science highlights the constraints limiting the choice and creating thinking transcends or by-passes them to come out with out-of-box solutions. In the final analysis art is responsible for land mark decisions or discoveries, even in science. Think of Laws of gravitation (insight about existence of a problem) or Archimedes principle (creativity in the bath tub). This is serendipity at its best.
    • Stephen Basikoti FCCA
    Choosing is fluidy and it cannot be boxed. Many things influence choice and often in different ways at different times. Further, choice involves the future--which can only be guessed at, but can never be known or understood.

    All we can do is use science to understand the uncertainty of choosing as well as appreciate the things or activities that can minimize the associated risks while using art to sharpen the intuitiveness that goes into the moment of choice.
    • Ranjit Nilacanta Venkata
    • Harvard
    In this context of decision making, I have a question

    I buy a stock for a $1 today. I see it grow to $ 2 tomorrow EOD. I dont know what's going to happen day after.

    What are my options?

    Some people call selling it as "art of trading" and

    some others say keeping it is "science of trade".

    And the consequences are "fate" or "fortune".

    Life's tough. Long ago, everyone had needs and acted accordingly.

    These days, people think of choices but not needs.

    Modernization/growth is the main cause for difficulties in decision making!
    • Seena Sharp
    • Principal, Sharp Market Intelligence
    Decisions rank among the most important aspects in business, especially as it relates to achieving goals and being successful. Good decisions minimize risk, reduce uncertainty, and increase the company's competitive advantage.

    There likely are several good choices for the final decision. The ones that are most likely to succeed cannot be based on arbitrary choices; rather, they need to be based on solid input, that's current, accurate, objective, relevant, and sufficient. In other words, market intelligence.

    Decision-makers too often accept choices that seem reasonable, as they are familiar. But this thinking does not account for change, which is unfamiliar. Accordingly, the good choices that include changing input are easily dismissed or ignored.

    Bottom line: choice must include today's reality which may appear weird, or contradict conventional wisdom. Without this perspective, the choice will more likely have been a good one for yesterday, but less likely to move the company forward to the desired results.

    My book, Competitive Intelligence Advantage, begins with the chapter on The Emergence of the Hapless Executive, and further discusses the immediate advantage of good choices and good decisions.
    • Waju T Ogunleye
    • C.O.O, Nth Sense ltd
    The very fact that today's innovative technologies always arrive with one glitch or another is proof that "Making right decisions" cannot be a science. Rather, it is an Art.
    I say this because every art masterpiece, so-recognized by the world turns out to be a mistake that turned out beautifully -and that without modifications. Right from the iPod, to the little overextension of the nose on david's sculpture by Michael Angelo, it turns out was for the advantage of weathering. A frustrated Archimedes soaks in the bath and "discovers" upthrust. Monseiur Kekule dozed off and discovered the Benzene ring. Isaac newton lazed under the apple tree and discovered gravity; countless other masters "happened" upon the right choice -the very things that define our lives today.
    In this light therefore, it turns out that the very essence of science is to teach us how to make an art out of living itself. For the one who will seek to eliminate wrong choices has just himself made the "wrongest" choice.
    • Vanitha Rangganathan
    • Malaysia
    I wouldn't volunteer 'choosing' into the realm of sciences - a highly disciplined field barely grasped in its entirety by the human race.

    While not exhaustive, 'choosing' could perhaps hint at some form of art - given that art primarily deals with human emotions. Art, whether it refers to a body of knowledge, aesthetic value or the ability to manifest expressions, almost always reflects our inherent ability to be moved from one state of emotion to another as encouraged by its presence. Art requires subjective appreciation, as is our ability to choose.

    'Choosing' is a very personal inclination and one that is driven mostly by an inherent need and conviction. While external factors may contribute to a selection of choices, the mind-heart collaboration makes the ultimate decision and renders a person entirely responsible for the choices he or she makes. Poor or wise choices, they are a reflection of our ability to weigh different options available and enables us to exercise some form of freedom in making decisions - no matter what the outcome may be.

    Our ability to choose should remain within the faculties given to us by Nature and not one that requires undue classification.
    • Abbey Mutumba
    • Franchise Development Executive, Abbedax Entertainment & Hospitality Ltd
    Life especially in business is about decision/choice making for our survival and competitiveness.

    Let's take the scenario of choosing a restaurant franchise to buy (McDonalds OR Nando's OR Burger King OR Bon Apeti?). Habit (art) can lead you into choosing McDonalds and/or Nandos because of the order in which they are presented, however the planned order is usually a result of the marketing gimmicks (science) of the Franchise Brokers whose preference is ordered from 1 to 4 from the most paying to the least paying sponsor. This makes choice to be both a science and art in the case of making a franchising choice whether in restaurant or retail or social/health or manaufacturing or sport franchising.

    Besides, choicing which form of franchise strategy to use in order to penetrate the East African (Ugandan) market is more of a science than an art. This is because you have to analyse the kind of system procedures and agreements you have to put in place which needs financial analyses like strategic ratio analysis (science) alongside one's experience (art). There are many franchising choice making situations that demand for a mixture of scientific (organized and evidence-based) approaches and habitual (experience and emotion-based).

    So, choice making in most franchising situations is both a science and an art because it is about replicating a successful business model with competitive/mutual benefits to the franchiser and franchisee.

    Franchise Executives out there, what is your take?
    • L. Santhosh
    • PwC
    If it were a science, everyone would take the same decision. Why bother? Psychic Paul didn't know science. His art earned him fame!!

    Why make a mountain out of a molehill?
    Probably because, a more rational person would include more science into the decision that she takes. That helps in reducing the business risk, in hindsight, that the decision was awful.

    Ultimate Art!!
    • Narendar Singh
    • Professor, Free Lancer
    Choosing can never be in the realm of science or else we would have theorem to justify everything and all will arrive at same solution.
    Choosing is a very personal inclimnation dependent on factors such as environment, parents, associate etc. that influence the decision.