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Making Judgment Calls

More often than any of us might care to admit, the course of human affairs relies on great judgment.

By Thomas H. Davenport and Brook Manville

Even in this age of abundant data and rocket-science analytics, many decisions force people to draw on their accumulated wisdom to make the right call. Sometimes that’s because the absolute right answer can’t be known; the question at hand relates to a future too full of uncertainty. Other times, the optimal solution could be determined based on accessible information, but the urgency of the situation means it can’t be assembled in time. In still other cases, conflicting values come into play and the trade-offs defy easy quantification.

As societies and their organizations experience ever-accelerating rates of change, we suspect all these conditions will apply more often, and more decisions than ever will come down to judgment calls.

The question is, how can we make sure those calls are made well? Is it enough to choose smart leaders who seem to have their people's interests at heart, and trust their wisdom? ...

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About the Authors

Thomas H. Davenport

Professor Davenport holds the President’s Chair in the Information Technology Management Division and co-directs the Working Knowledge Research Center. He has taught at Harvard Business School, University of Chicago, Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business, and the University of Texas at Austin. He has directed research centers at Accenture, Ernst & Young, McKinsey & Company, and CSC Index.

Brook Manville

Brook Manville is Principal of Brook Manville LLC, a strategy consulting and organizational development practice, serving socially-minded enterprises. Brook’s work builds on a thirty-year career in education, media, technology and management consulting, across the for-profit, not-for-profit and government sectors. An early pioneer in “knowledge management” and knowledge-based strategy and organizations, Brook offers deep experience as a consultant, people developer and senior manager to his clients and partners.

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This article was excerpted from Judgment Calls: Twelve Stories of Big Decisions and the Teams That Got Them Right by Thomas H. Davenport and Brook Manville (Harvard Business Press 2012).