While driving a rental car in a new city it became clear, we were lost. The GPS unit indicated we were heading toward our destination; however, we weren’t. How could this happen? GPS is GPS, it knows! We didn’t notice that the GPS, upon startup, had entered a mode that simulates the path to take in the display but the GPS really isn’t tracking that path. It happens when the GPS unit cannot find a signal. We trusted that our tool was giving us the right information just because it looked like it was. This episode of humor and humility reminds us that leaders need to be attentive to research provided to ensure better decision making. Don’t risk making a decision in simulation mode where the results look good at first glance but the information presented is not sufficient to make a good decision. Here are four points leaders should consider to make better decisions:

#1 – Know what you don’t know

Making a decision without considering what one doesn’t know is one of the most foolish behaviors that prohibits better decision making. How can we take into consideration what we don’t know? To get out of this paradox, consider that there are three areas of understanding: 1). Things you know you know, 2). Things you know you don’t know, and 3). Things you don’t know you don’t know. Realizing there are gaps in understanding (2 and 3) when making a decision requires one to consider options and be open to new information beyond what is currently known. Not considering other information may lead to a seemingly correct answer but an incorrect conclusion. There is a simple example from studying logic that illustrates this point. The last time I drove behind a red car I got a speeding ticket. Therefore, every time I drive behind a red car I will get a speeding ticket . This is a logical argument but not a sound conclusion. Test conclusions for soundness; ask if there is enough information to make that conclusion and consider what information isn’t presented or available to ensure better decision making.

#2 – Know who is relevant to you – segment customer answers

Another mistake is conducting customer research and analyzing answers without context. For instance, when seeking to understand unmet needs in health and wellness, segment consumers into those who are willing to consider or take action in improving health. Talking to a customer who isn’t the strongest segment or a relevant segment based upon strategy or strengths will cloud insight because of too many variables (e.g. differences in preferences or needs). Organizing responses by customer segments reduces the noise in research results to allow for better decision making.

#3 – Don’t be penny wise but pound foolish

Considering the cost of making a wrong decision will help ensure better decision making. A consumer packaged product launch costs millions of dollars in advertising and promotions. When you add those costs to the cost of unsold product inventory or the potential damage to the reputation of the brand, it is easy to see why not to shortchange the design of product development research. Ask questions. What data are we missing that could throw us off the mark? What is the cost of missing the mark on X and how can we mitigate that risk? Consider in the budget for quantitative research the cost of conducting qualitative research to provide critical design input to ensure the core issues are raised, phrasing of questions are right and overall quality of content (e.g. attributes, customer language) is relevant. It is a fraction of total research costs and can significantly improve the decision results of the quantitative research project.

Expect justification as to what the right decision method is and how to execute it. Auto-pilot answers like because that is how we have always done it at Company X or it worked on project Y should not be accepted. To engage in better decision making, ensure the right tools, right questions and right content are included.

#4 – Be sure your eyes are not too big for your stomach

Doubt the budget is available to use the tool properly? Opt to refocus your efforts on a smaller, more focused study that can be executed properly and answers even just one killer question. This will provide better decision making than a poorly executed larger study resulting in unreliable results that can steer you in the wrong direction. Be skeptical of garbage in/garbage out with poorly funded or executed studies. When on a tight budget, take the approach to spend a little learn a little.

Start a revolution with us by engaging in better decision making. Be alert to how decisions tools are executed and how decisions are made.