Best Decision Making – Experience Versus Data-based?


The daily life of any executive entails an endless amount of decisions: those decisions are made based on factors such as experience, data, organizational needs and goals. Those decisions are likely to be additionally impacted by the ever increasing demand for speed. Hence creating a tempting environment to excessively rely on decision making based on experience. This begs the question: does relying on experience as sole point of reference for decision making viable? And if it is, how do we maximize the odds of better outcome for those decisions?

Variety of experience

It is a fair to stay that we all perceive reality differently: people can be in the same situation or conversation yet have an entirely different take away. The same applies to “experience”; one single instance of “experience” can be sufficient to deter or encourage a particular action based on the perceived “lesson learned”; it is even entirely possible to classify the same instance of “experience” as good or bad solely based on the perception of the experience and/or its outcome. This leads us to the question: if the said experience is the basis of one or more decisions, how can potential errors or bias be minimized?

Single or multiple experiences

It goes without saying that a single instance of an experience is rather a debatable proposition when it comes to decision making. It should be rather obvious that a single instance of “data point” be it qualitative or quantitative can’t possibly be considered as reliable basis for fundamental decisions. That being said when can experience be reasonably viable? Is it a functional of quantity? Quality? The answer is not that one dimensional. 

A single instance of virtually anything can signal flawed results and conclusions because there are many variables that can change the actual and or perceived outcome. Some of those factors include stakeholder’s behavior and actions, circumstantial organizational resource limitations and or allocation as well as interpretation biased by multiple level of internal and external actors. Hence, logic dictates that one, two or any quantity of an experience is susceptible to flawed conclusion analysis.


So, if even multiple instances of a given experience can’t be relied upon, what is the solution? One possible solution is reliance of patterns; this method would strip away a lot of the shortcoming of utilizing the experience or experiences as a data point by looking at common denominator’s as opposed to evaluating the experience in its entirety. Additionally, it would allow for larger set of qualitative data points because it eliminates the necessity of using only personal experience as opposed to being able to include external and/or third party input even unrelated to specific projects and/or industries.

Bottom line

Decision making can be both simple and complex; even at the same time. The recent proliferation of quantitative decision making has overshadowed the art and science of qualitative decision making. However; qualitative decision making requires forethought, planning as well as consistent reevaluation.  The process of refining qualitative decision making and in this particular case experience based decision making require a wide range of factors that have to be consistently revisited to retain their validity. It also requires the acceptance of the limitations of such methodology just as much as its validity. Decision makers have to accept that in spite of the validity of incorporating past experience in to the decision making cycle; those experiences have to be used in terms of pattern recognition as opposed to only using the outcome as the determining factor.


* indicates required

Comments are closed.