** As published on AESC Bluesteps

Author: Chris Swan

Business leaders have always been scrutinized for their decision making. In 1914, Henry Ford was both denounced as a fool and praised for doubling wages of factory employees from $2.34 to $5 per day. In 1987, Merck & Company decided to give away a cure for river blindness for free, an unfathomable choice for most pharmaceuticals, because they recognized the cost of the drug would be too high for impoverished international markets. Today, entire industries emerge and evaporate in just a few years, so executives must be ready to make substantive choices with limited information. Decisions on people – who to hire, fire, promote, and reward – are even more complex; even if new algorithms are quantifying our daily behavior, humans create messy and imperfect data sets. How can business leaders remain confident they are making the best call on people decisions when the stakes are higher than ever?

Modern day philosophers can be of some guidance. Ruth Chang makes a compelling argument in her TED talk on choices, encouraging the recognition that even small, seemingly unsubstantial selections can be difficult. Utilizing a choice between oatmeal and a chocolate donut as an example, she explains, “One is better for you and the other tastes better, but neither is better overall.” Ruth goes a step further than most – she actually loves the opportunity to make a tough decision. Difficult choices empower us to stop, reflect, and consider what person or group we aspire to become; as a result, we actively choose to mold our destiny rather than allow indecision (which is itself a decision) or fear to force an outcome. Ruth’s conclusion is to focus on values. Your values should set the standard for what is acceptable and important in your life. Each of our choices reinforces who we are as unique human beings, and hopefully guides all our decisions. If your purpose in life is to become the best version of yourself, and you value being healthy, you might choose the oatmeal. If your purpose is to live a fun and exciting life and you value personal enjoyment, you might choose the donut. Neither is inherently right or wrong, but each fit differently into your own unique purpose and values.

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