That One Quality of a Good Decision Maker

Let me start with a story: a startup that has been in business for about two years, and growing pretty well, has just been offered a billion dollars to sell. The twenty-something founder, after considering the offer long and hard, decides to pass.

The board, the execs, the media, the journos, the reporters, the advisors, the friends, and all other “opinionated” intellectuals think it’s a stupid move. He’s foolish to pass off $300M which he is supposed to gain personally from the deal. They try to put some sense into his head, but he won’t listen. Because he knows something they don’t.

In 2006, Facebook was on the cusp of launching new products that would entirely change the trajectory of the company, and the world as we know. They were limited to only colleges when Yahoo! offered to buy, but Mark Zuckerberg stood his ground. Fifteen years later, Facebook has a market cap of $969 billion (closing in on the $1 trillion mark) and Yahoo! is history. How do you like them apples!

I’m not a big fan of Facebook the company due to their lax attitude towards user privacy, but I’m a huuuge fan of Facebook the business and Zuckerberg’s fighting spirit. I want you to take a moment and try to get your head around the amount of pressure he must have felt as a 22-year-old when all the “adults” were advising him to sell. Anybody in his position would have folded and taken the deal, albeit reluctantly. And after Yahoo! would have gone down with Facebook a couple of years later, it would have been perfectly okay for him to say, “I told you so!” People would still think he did the right thing, and life would go on.

And that’s where the difference between having opinion and having conviction lies.

A decision maker isn’t right or wrong because the crowd agrees with them. A decision maker isn’t right or wrong because the crowd disagrees with them. It’s not a business where you take polls. Therefore, it doesn’t matter what you “think” or believe unless you act on it. It doesn’t matter what your “forecast” is unless you bet on it.

You see, “tawking” is easy, opinions come cheap. But the world is run by deeds, and how often your “thinking” is right is irrelevant in the real world. A decision maker is as good as their thinking and analysis translated into action. Everything else is meaningless. As Nassim Nicholas Taleb would say, “Never ask anyone for their opinion, forecast, or recommendation. Just ask them what they have—or don’t have—in their portfolio.”

Good decision making is more about temperament than intelligence. You need some intelligence — the minimum intelligence to comprehend what I’m trying to say. But, as Warren Buffett would say, “You don’t have to be able to play three-dimensional chess or be in the top leagues in terms of Bridge playing or something.”

You need a stable personality, the temperament of a person who derives pleasure neither from being with the crowd nor against the crowd.

Whether you are an investor or an entrepreneur (two fields where what you do is more important than what you say), your primary job is thinking, analysing, and acting on them — and not getting over-stimulated by empty opinions.

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