Much of what we write about in this magazine, as in most business magazines, touches on the challenges of decision making. Month after month, we provide information aimed at helping readers move beyond the "analysis paralysis" and get on with making decisions. A case in point is this month's article on choosing a warehouse management system. That story, which illustrates the perils of making the wrong choice, also offers suggestions on figuring out what you really need and tips on finding products that can deliver.
Fortunately, technology has come a long way in providing decision support. Programs are available that can help decision makers gather information and analyze that information from every conceivable angle. Yet the availability of vast amounts of data in no way guarantees good decisions. In the end, every business decision comes down to an application of human experience and intelligence to imperfect information.
That's not to say that information is always imperfect. Perfect information, an important theoretical construct, may be available in some circumstances. If you have all the numbers for an addition problem, you can solve it. If you're playing chess, your information is complete if you can see every piece and observe your opponent's every move. That doesn't mean you'll win, of course, but the information you need is there in front of you.
Would that things were so easy in business or the rest of life. As Alan Watts, the well known interpreter of Eastern philosophy, once wrote, even to describe a mote of dust with complete accuracy is a task that could never be completed. Complete and perfect information is not available for most real-world business decisions, nor is it particularly necessary.
What we need to understand is that even the most critical decisions proceed from partial information. That's why advanced technical tools will never replace human intelligence. Oh, we can set up systems to react in specific ways to specific circumstances—if A happens, then do B. But when some of the variables are unknown, as is inevitably the case, human managers must take what information they have and make decisions from the gut. Call it what you will— "basic instinct" or "intuition"—what counts in the end is the ability to make critical leaps beyond the available data to good decisions.