Too much data? Be decisive.

This article & discussion from includes an excerpt from a new book, CrazyBusy. The author, in that excerpt, talks about how we often get entangled today by a desire to have all the data before we make a decision.

In our experience, this is not a side effect of the modern world, of the increasing availability of data. It is human nature to try to make good decisions, and the goal for certainty is underscored not by data but by poor management and worse leadership. Good leaders understand that people make mistakes and that data paralysis is to be avoided. Good managers help train people to understand what data is important and what is required to make a good decision (not necessarily the right decision). We can all look back at decisions we made that turned out to be right or wrong. That set isn’t the same when we divide them by well-made vs. poorly made decisions.

Where do people learn about decisiveness? I know where we learned: the Army. As a young lieutenant, at the same time as we were teaching this concept to NCOs and junior enlisted soldiers, senior officers were teaching us. We left the Army with a well-tuned ability to figure out what kinds of information were required to choose among alternatives, how much information we needed to choose, how uncertainties in one area could be compensated by good information in another: actually making that choice, in an imperfect environment, we called decisiveness.

As junior officers, we were corrected more often for failing to make a decision than for choosing an alternative that turned out to be incorrect. We all had the opportunity to do plenty of pushups in places like West Point, Officer Candidate School, or Ranger School in the course of learning that lesson. That is one reason former junior military officers have often a bias for action, as we term it.

So, when you’re faced with a data glut, do what your average 2LT would: figure out what you need to absolutely make the decision, assess how much information you have and how reliable it is, determine what the failure modes are based on incorrect or missing information; then, mash all that up in the supercomputer we call a brain and spit out an answer. After all, you’re not just going to sit there, right? You might be wrong, but without intervention, the world will go to hell in a handbasket: it’s Newton’s Second Law.