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Want to Make Better Decisions? Procrastinate

It may be counter-intuitive, but here's why you need to slow down before your next big decision.

Leaders make decisions every day. And, if you're like most leaders, you've probably grown accustomed to the idea that a decisive leader is one who makes choices quickly, confidently, and consistently.

But are those the right qualities for really good decision-making?

Why You Should Wait

Big science projects like CERN, the European laboratory for particle physics, approach decision-making differently. Because they're engaged in work that has never been done before, the scientists are acutely aware of just how much they don't know. As a consequence, they often delay design decisions as late as they can. Why? Because every day that they wait brings new data, new mistakes, new learning. They're keen not to box themselves into choices based on information that rapidly becomes out-of-date.

This is a big challenge for any group working in research, design, and innovation. It prompts a critical question: How much do you have to know today to decide how much today? How much can you afford to delay until you know more?

What to Do in the Meantime

These questions are counter-cultural in business, considering you've gotten used to prizing speed, despite the mounting evidence against the first-is-always-best-fast-is-always-good phenomonen.

In a fast-moving environment, often the smartest thing to do is to stop and watch. Keep collecting data. Keep asking questions. Make a decision, yes--but leave it until the last moment you can. Take time to absorb uncertainty--and learn from it.

A good night's sleep won't hurt either.

Last updated: May 8, 2013


Margaret Heffernan is an entrepreneur and author. She has been chief executive of InfoMation Corporation, ZineZone Corporation, and iCAST Corporation. In 2014, she published her fourth book, A Bigger Prize: How We Can Do Better Than the Competition.

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