My home is in a downtown area, where there are pedestrians, bicyclists, trees, cars parallel-parked on both sides of the street. Last Sunday, when the downtown churches finished their services and all the beautifully-dressed parishioners spilled out their doors, I made a mistake: I chose a route home with a stop sign, where the beautiful river birches and parked cars line the street, where it’s really difficult to know when it’s safe to go.
I sat there, at the corner of High and Washington, peering through the windows of parked cars, trying to see the oncoming traffic. I let my foot off the brake, and then slammed it down again when a car whooshed past. I said a bad word, inched my car forward, and started looking both ways again.
When we make business decisions, we never have perfect information. We do the best we can with the information we have. We gather as much information as we can, and we hope it’s the right information. We estimate, we predict, we assign probabilities, and we choose. Sometimes we make practical, low-risk choices, and they turn out okay. Other times we take breathtaking risks, not knowing whether they will be great successes or terrible mistakes. At some point, we have to stop looking at what we have and choose.
Sitting in my car, at that stop sign, I had to stop looking and choose. I gathered information — peering through the windows of parked cars — and I hoped it was accurate. I estimated the speed of the cars I could see; I predicted the end of the stream of traffic; I assessed the probability of safely crossing High Street. And I chose. I hit the gas, and I kept looking both ways as I crossed. I made a practical, low-risk choice. It turned out just fine.