Expert!  Expert!  Who's the expert?

by Terry Goodwin[1]  


"Consider the vice-president, George Bush, a man so bedevilled by bladder problems that he managed, for the last eight years, to be in the men's room whenever an important illegal decision was made." 

 Barbara Ehrenreich, The Worst Years of our Lives, 1991.



Decisions made by experts (even soi-disant experts) should, by definition, be more effective than those made by people who do not profess to be experts, if only because an expert decision may be expected to be backed up by expert judgement.


In studies on the effectiveness of expert decisions, however, it has been revealed that experts may be neither more nor less competent than tyros under similar circumstances.  The principal criterion seems to be whether the decisions involve evaluation  of areas which are changeable or relatively constant.  Thus expert judgements based on objects are more likely to be effective than those based on people.


In other words the predictable is more likely to benefit from an expert opinion than the arbitrary.  Nevertheless the popular perception of experts will often permit errors on the part of self-styled scientists rather than those whose area of competence takes them into the domain of unreliable human behaviour patterns.  For example, a weather forecaster may be forgiven his errors (Michael Fish, take a bow!) where a clinical psychologist - much less a psychotherapist - would be unlikely to receive such tolerant deference.


Let us put this into the context of decision-making.


Making a decision is making a choice; and it is hard to think of a single therapy, guide to personal development, treatise on philosophy, course on business management, self-help group, or spiritual growth system  which does not emphasise the exercise of choice.


New Age theorists and their successors might return to the bible and find much of their "innovative" theory was anticipated.  More recent treatments of "empowerment" have followed the same path and pattern.  Samuel Smiles (Self Help), Coué ("every day and in every way . . . "), Norman Vincent Peale (Positive Thinking), Dale Carnegie (Influencing People), Jean Paul Sartre ("existence precedes essence"): all of them place the making of decisions squarely into the hands of the decision maker.


You want to make a decision?  The choice is yours.  Too often we spend our time, before making decisions, looking for guidance outside ourselves, rather than within ourselves.  We have a choice; we are responsible.  If we accept this from the outset, much of the rest will follow.  The first basic decision we have to make is: do I want to accept responsibility or do I fear to accept responsibility?  This amounts to merely: Do I trust myself?  Do I value myself?  Or do I want to put myself down?


Making decisions provides us with an opportunity, a challenge.  We can use the opportunity to provoke a sense of adventure.  Or we can put it off.  We can procrastinate. We can hesitate.  We can run away.  We can hope that, whatever it is that we believe needs to be done, it will be done without our intervention in the course of time; or that the need itself will disappear.  This is fine if we have made a conscious decision not to make a decision!  If we have exercised a conscious and deliberate preference.  If we have acted through choice and not through fear.


Or we could simply join George Bush (the elder!) in the men's room.  If he is still there.


Carl Rogers (Client Centred Therapy) makes the point that the question of group members' ability to make sound decisions versus the group leader's ability, is really a question of whether the leader without the group members can make better decisions than the total group including the leader.



It is important to understand that there is absolutely no facet of our conditions or environment that cannot be changed by making a decision.  And it is the commitment to making a decision which effectively guarantees the success of the decision that has been made.  This is the first step.  Anthony Robbins (Awaken the Giant Within) suggests six steps:


*     To recognise the power of making decisions.

*     To acknowledge the importance of making a true commitment.

*     To make decisions often.

*     To learn from the decisions.

*     To stay committed to the decisions, but flexible.

*     To enjoy making decisions.


Having established how to proactively embrace the decision-making process, how do we turn this into effective decision-making?


*     By being systematic.

*     By avoiding procrastination.

*     By setting clear objectives.

*     By collecting all relevant information.

*     By reviewing alternatives.


*     By devising and implementing an action plan.

*     By reviewing the outcome.


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Now assess your decision-making performance


   Never          Occasionally      Frequently          Always 

  Score 1            Score 2             Score 3            Score 4


1.  I make my decisions in good time and ensure they are implemented.

2.  I analyse situations carefully and fully before making up my mind.

3.  I delegate all decisions that do not need to be taken personally by me.

4.  I add intuitive belief to intellectual reasoning when making a decision.

5.  I use my understanding of corporate culture to get support for my decisions.

6.  I draw up a strong case to clarify and support any strategic decisions.

7.  I seek the widest possible involvement in the decision-making process.

8.  I consult all those I consider appropriate to help me to reach the right decision.

9.  I challenge all obsolete ideas in order to achieve a creative approach.

10. I encourage group members to think as a team not as prejudiced individuals.

11. I weigh alternatives against objective criteria that must satisfy the decision.

12. I use all available information sources both inside and outside the group.

13. I seek to minimise risks but will take unavoidable ones with confidence.

14. I take decisions on their merits and without concern for my personal position.

15. I invite support and feedback for my decisions at every stage of the process.

16. I entrust each stage of any action plan to an accountable individual.

17. I involve the entire team before implementing the decision.

18. I communicate my decisions openly, honestly, and as quickly as possible.

19. I encourage people to come forward with any objections.

20. I take full responsibility for the performance of people I decide to employ.


The maximum number of points you can score is 80.  Any score between 60 and 80 is evidence that you have very strong decision-making skills.  It also suggests that you may be too complacent.  Improvement is always possible.  40 to 60 points reveal a fairly sound decision-making ability, with room for improvement.   If you have scored below 40 points, your decision-making performance is poor.  Examine particularly the areas where you have scored badly and try to adopt new methods and strategies.


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[1] Terry Goodwin was a senior marketing executive at Finexport Ltd in London and Bangkok until his retirement in 1992, since when he has been in private practice as a marketing consultant.