By Erica Nemser, CEO

Making decisions under uncertainly is the stock in trade of business. As we all contend with the Corona (COVID-19) outbreak, I have been reflecting on decision making in this situation and how its similar to and different from all the other business decisions we face .

A few things about decision making are consistently true every time I make one, including in the era of Covid-19:

  • Decisions are unique. I rarely, if ever, face the same situation and circumstances twice
  • There is a penalty to being wrong. And often a higher penalty to being more wrong
  • Gathering information and analysis can be helpful in being ‘less’ wrong and more right
  • Spending too much time collecting information can also be costly by delaying the value of our actions and missing opportunities (among other losses)

What is the right, goldilocks level of information gathering? How do I practically implement it in a world where we each have to make many decisions every day?

Low cost, reversible decisions are easy – make a decision and move forward. In this arena, momentum and bias for action outweigh the value of perfection. A major change (which happens about 5% of the time) can easily be absorbed by our organization and system. While generally helpful, this approach is not relevant to COVID-19 where downside and systemic risks are high – and there is no room to move in reverse

Two other habits and practices have become really handy, especially in more complex situations. The situation with Covid-19 seems to lend itself to both

1.      Triangulation. Looking at the problem from different sides or different situations and pressure testing the answer. This includes developing different scenarios and getting the input of others who either have been down a similar path or know something that I don’t. I know I am done when my answer pretty well converges and is robust (ie not changing) under new inputs or scenarios. I use this more often in one way decisions – where we need to decide and move on and there is less opportunity to back track: contracting terms, manufacturing, or a hiring decision.

2.      Smart iteration. We work hard to identify the information that we wish we knew. We create a first version of our answer, which is a best guess at the time. We are very explicit about the hypotheses we are testing or beliefs guiding us. Importantly, we build in information gathering as a core part of our initial solution, so we can learn and iterate over time.  This is more common in marketing scenarios, for example, where two messages can be tested or two approaches to trade shows can be trialed. Or beliefs and hypotheses about customer behavior can be validated or refuted.

In the case of COVID-19, triangulation means looking to advice from the CDC and other agencies, as well as legal experts, business groups and organizations like ours.

Smart iteration is underway as information is evolving and our response can evolve as new best practices and recommendation emerge – enhancing the preparation of our company, service to our customers, support to our team, and communication with our suppliers.

We are fortunate that we can stand on the shoulders of giants – improving our responses based on the thousands of healthcare and infectious disease specialists, supply chain experts, and small business leaders weighing in.

A huge thank you to everyone involved in getting the US and world through this. We know there is more to come and that the system may be overwhelmed – we appreciate your expertise and preparation.