Stefan Stern: Brown - will he or won’t he?

In management jargon, it is known as trying to take a decision based on 'imperfect information'. In real life, we call it 'not really knowing what to do'. But this week prime minister Gordon Brown is being acquainted with a dilemma that will be familiar to most business leaders: whether or not to 'go for it', to press ahead with a big strategic move (in the PM’s case, whether or not to call a general election).

by Stefan Stern
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010
Prof Michael Useem of the Wharton business school in Philadelphia published a book on this subject last year, called The Go Point: When it's time to decide - knowing what to do and when to do it - a long title which indicates that the author had some difficulty himself in deciding exactly what to call his book.
 
Never mind. He correctly spotted that the actual moment of decision-making, in business as in life generally, can be fraught. Do you have enough relevant and useful data to make a wise choice? Will you in fact ever be able to gather that sort of data, or do you have to go with only 60% or 70% of the information you would ideally like to have?
 
Gordon Brown is in the same boat. He cannot rely on the increasingly flaky and volatile opinion polls. (These market research techniques, pretty good for testing customers' responses to new yoghurt flavours or pizza toppings, are less helpful when it comes to the very personal question of voting intentions.)
 
He will have to trust his gut, and make a judgment call. That's partly what leadership is about. And sometimes, simply making a decision - almost any decision - is the right thing to do; better than endless drift at any rate.
 
As the mountaineer Joe Simpson (of Touching the Void fame) says in that gripping film: if he'd simply waited until he was sure about the right way of getting down that mountain alive, he'd have been dead. The thing to do was to keep moving, taking (small) decisions, and adjusting to whatever happened next. He lived to tell his spine-tingling tale.

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