From education to employment

Decisions: Are you inspired or sleeping on it?

In colleges we regularly have to make decisions.  Sometimes these decisions are small easy decisions; then there are the more important decisions that affect the lives of our staff and students and, often, we make decisions where the impact can be measured in £millions.

Making decisions isn’t easy when there is so much at stake, and we all have our own strategies for dealing with difficult decisions.  Some people are able make decisions quite rapidly and some of us take much longer and will “sleep on it”.  Rapid decision making is often based on experience or intuition and that is perfectly legitimate; but we do need to be aware of the tendency to make difficult decisions by reference to a related topic.  For example, when making a complex decision, that is informed by pages of complex data, some decision makers find it easy to work on the basis of the reputation of supplier A, rather than the complex data we have on suppliers A, B and C.

Worse still, these people often then justify their decision based on subjective scores that have been influenced by a supplier’s reputation; and then call the method objective.  On reading this the logic of “blind” bid appraisal, or the use of an objective consultant, might strike you as a good strategy.

Of course too much data puts our brains in to overload and it is difficult to absorb, quantify and sift a lot of complex information even when using tools such as a decision making matrix.

The strategy of “sleeping on it” is then actually very sound.  Our subconscious is very good at detecting those niggling little questions we should have asked and at seeing nuances that we had failed to perceive when intensely reading information.

Variations on “sleeping on it” include taking a relaxing shower, or my favourite, visiting an inspirational place.

Do these methods work?

Yes, many people swear by them.  For example, I recently helped a charity make some investment decisions on a £multi-million pension fund.  Now I know nothing about investments; my contribution was about helping the senior team use a strategy to make a decision.  The week after our meeting the CEO phoned and said she’d taken her dog for a walk in the rain on an empty beach and, despite not giving the problem a thought, on getting back to her car realised the answer was obvious.

Another senior team had a series of decisions to make and several of them reported similar experiences.  To help them I made a short video (below) reminding them of the things that would help them use an inspirational place to relax.

For garden lovers the video is based on an Inspirational Japanese garden that helped me put together the programme I ran for my clients.  The garden is the Parc Oriental near Cholet in the Loire.  I hope you find it as inspirational as I did.

Stefan Drew is a marketing consultant, and was previously director of marketing at two FHE colleges. He now works with providers throughout Europe and the US – visit or for more details


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