6 Apr 2009

Should I or shouldn't I

The million dollar question that keeps plaguing me (us – if you think likewise too) in most of my decisions. Every decision seems to always get balanced at a perfect 50-50 ratio, turning the decision more into which 50% to vouch for. Surprisingly I’ve analyzed the last couple of decisions I made in 2008 and realized one funny thing. (I’ll save that analysis for the end).

A typical thing goes like this - Should I book that airline ticket or should I consider the 3A train travel alternative. The airline ticket should be affordable – but do I really need it. Won’t it be overkill? The train ticket makes more sense but won’t I have to apply for an extra day of leave? Oh come-on man, the mind says – go ahead book that airline ticket and you’ll reach in time and save for a day’s leave too. But then the other side responds – come on, you really don’t need to book an airline trip for such a frivolous visit not amounting to any significant business gain.

The textbooks & self-help materials preach – “Weigh your decisions objectively and select the best decisions based on pros & cons”. But then isn’t that the crux of the whole game. It seems a Linear Programming puzzle is easier solved than the simplest decisions that can keep bouncing to and fro in your head.

In contrast, some of my friends find decision making such an easy problem. One of them would solve the airline/train conundrum via a precise mathematical formula. Let “A” be the ticket expenditure incurred via airline travel. Let “B” be the expenditure incurred via train travel & Let “C” be the amount lost if you risk a day of unpaid leave. So the equation pseudocode simply becomes.

If (paid leave not granted)
If (A < (B + C)) then “Travel by Flight”
Else “Travel by Train”
} else
If (A < B) then “Travel by Flight”
Else “Travel by Train”

Such an easy equation! And I had to rely on my Gujju friend to explain such layman stuff, break it down into its constituent elements and present it logically. If I’m not satisfied with his solution, he’ll resort to some emotional tricks like labeling me as a “pucca kanjoos” etc… tricks that he knows will stir even the laziest souls to sit up and take a decision. Well usually in such cases, especially in the travel scenario - I have often observed that finally I end up not traveling at all (as by the time the decision has been taken – the flight/train tickets will have been exhausted).

So last Thursday, glancing through the evening newspapers, there was this news regarding some scientists having cracked the decision making process. It seemed from their results on some university students that essentially all humans take their decisions from the heart and not from their minds. That included even the ones who claim to actually take decisions from their minds. Subconsciously it seems that it’s our hearts that take the final call.

Those made me re-think some of my best decisions. It was indeed true. These decisions were mostly impulse driven. I remember buying the Laptop. I’d analyzed so much for months and come to a 50-50 between the Dell Inspiron and the Asus Eee PC. I’d walked into Croma, picked up the Eee PC, asked the salesman a dozen questions regarding its support for different OS’es and heat sink abilities and blah blah. Then just before he was to pack it – my eyes fell on the Acer 4530, a chap sitting silently in the corner with a command prompt screen and no-one even giving it a glance. Went over there – read the specs off the label stickers and happily walked out of the store swinging one. I’d not heard one review of the laptop or even known the model before I went for it. But today when I look back - it has been a splendid buy, best gear for its budget.

So next time whenever you are stuck in the decision making process, remember its not the decision that counts more but making the decision fast and sticking to it. Let your impulse drive you where you can’t be objective and 98% - you won’t fret about it later.


  1. This article wonderfully portrays the common man's dilemma. Last line says it all.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Based on the pseudo code and your decision making skills(!?!?), I think you always travel by train..he he..
    (The previous comment was by me only, but with my wife's login)