Making Bad Business Decisions and How to Stop

Business mistakes are a reality that plague everyone throughout their career.

Whether you’re an individual contributor, a manager, or the leader of a major corporation, mistakes are a reality that we face. When mistakes are made, we have a tendency to blame external forces — the customers don’t know a good thing when they see it, the economy is working against us, a competitor is doing something underhanded, or our marketing effort missed the mark.

Most of us are actually quite skilled at making excuses. But if you peel back the layers of the problem, what do you find? Was it the personalities of the people involved? Was it that not enough time was spent gathering information or data (or getting the wrong data)? Was it that the leader made the decision and no one on the team said anything even though they knew it was not the best decision? These are the mistakes that I consistently see my clients making, but the good news is, there’s a way to avoid these mistakes with your own business.

Paul “Bear” Bryant, longtime head coach of Alabama football team, said, “When you make a mistake, there are only three things you should ever do about it: admit it, learn from it, and don’t repeat it.” The problem isn’t only making a mistake. It’s also repeating the same mistake over and over again.

The solution to this problem is to figure out why you made the mistake in the first place. Perhaps the situation ended up being more unexpected or unstable than you thought (Volatility). Perhaps you were missing some key information (Uncertainty). Perhaps the situation had many interconnected parts or pieces and the volume of data was simply overwhelming (Complexity). Or perhaps the situation was full of unknowns, and any causal relationships were completely unclear (Ambiguity).

The issue so many of us face is that we avoid those questions that make us uncomfortable. And we don’t like thinking reflectively on where we made bad decisions. Yet that’s exactly how we learn. Why didn’t you pause to adequately assess the risks? What stopped you from looking for data to find what you didn’t know? Did you completely overlook a blind spot? Did you rely on the ideas of a homogeneous team, one where everyone thought the same way? It’s knowing the answers to these questions that can help you figure out why you made the mistake in the first place and stop you from making it again.

The key to ending the pain of bad decisions is to start where it hurts, figure out why it hurts, and then figure out how to avoid that pain in the future. How do you do that? You get better at outsmarting VUCA individually as well as in your team, your group, or your organization.

How do you outsmart VUCA? You actively challenge assumptions, expose blind spots, and leverage diverse perspectives in order to arrive at better decisions. You add in the “offramps,” the checkpoints after you make a critical decision to reevaluate and ensure your decision was the best one.

Outsmarting VUCA is an active process that needs to happen regularly in life and on the job. Every day, we need to make decisions, come to conclusions, or take some action; this is when outsmarting VUCA is most valuable… when the stakes are high.

Want to learn more about how to survive in this VUCA environment? Read Outsmarting V.U.C.A. for the best advice on achieving success in this volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous world.


Dr. Don Gilman is a professional speaker, trainer, and author of “Outsmarting VUCA: Achieving Success in a Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous World”. With a Doctorate degree in Organization Change, as well as advanced degrees in Engineering Physics, Nuclear Engineering, and Engineering Management, Don is uniquely positioned to understand the challenges organizations face today in capturing new opportunities and staying competitive in this VUCA environment.