Dare to decide – Decision-making insights from practice


Last week I attended a lunch session “Dare to decide” which handled the topic of taking (difficult) decisions. The speakers were Philip H. and Jan N. Both were divers, one from the sky and one into the sea.

We all take thousands of decisions each day. Amongst them there are decisions which are well thought of, others could be more impulsive. In most cases the context where we take our decisions is pretty save. In the situation of the presenters, the context could be live threatening, for example while the sky diver heads to the ground at 200 kilometers an hour. Preparing well does make a difference.

Scuba Sky Diving

Taking decisions = taking risks

When you take decisions you are actually thinking of everything that will happen … and can go wrong (remark: if not, you should consider to do it at least a bit). If there were no consequences, decision taking would be a hell of a lot easier. But we are human and we like to think ahead.

While in both sky and scuba diving there are strict regulations regarding safety, both sportsmen still need to do a lot of checks themselves. One person sees more risks than another, but the goal is to do something with it. To mitigate them.

Risk mitigation consists of assessing the risk first and next taking appropriate. These actions could be: accepting, transferring, avoiding and decreasing the chance.

The speakers share some tips to mitigate these risks:

  • Keep it simple
  • Make your setting fool-proof
  • Do a strict control
  • Create backup systems in case something does go wrong
  • Setup a strict training program
  • Train for emergency and rescue situations
  • Make clear agreements about responsibilities and accountability
  • Execute checkups before the start

Insights from practice

There’s more to decision-making than only risk management and mitigation. Both speakers share some insights.

If you cannot prevent all risks, invest in monitoring them.

It could be possible that not all risks can be mitigated. In this case you should invest in equipment to monitor them. For example, for sky diving they have altitude meters and automatic parachute extraction systems, for scuba diving you have an air pressure meter.

Try to understand opposers

If somebody doesn’t agree with your approach, try to listen and understand instead of defending your position. There’s probably some truth in what they’re saying and try to look at it from their perspective: “Why do they see it as a risk?”.

Take chance and seriousness into account

There’s no need to invest a lot of money to mitigate small, non-relevant risks. Serious risks with a high chance should be looked into for sure. For example, the need for a backup parachute covers the risk of your main parachute not opening.

Not deciding is deciding that you don’t

The biggest risk is … not deciding at all. In that case you’re actually deciding notto do something!

Trust yourself

Make an estimation of the situation and learn to trust your decision.

Learn from failures

Not everything goes right every time. The biggest waste would be not to learn something from it. Ask questions like: What happened? What can we learn from it? How can we prevent it next time?

It’s this reflexion that made extreme sports like sky and scuba diving rather save during the years.

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