Oli Paterson

Decision-Making for Small Business Owners – Part 1

Decision Making for Small Business

Welcome to our look into the world of decision-making, specifically for you, the small business owner. This series opens by exploring the foundational ‘why’ behind the choices we make, blending research with practical wisdom to light your path forward.

What Drives Our Decisions?

Choosing one path over another isn’t just about gut feelings. It’s a mix of intuition and logic. Dan Ariely’s exploration in his TED talk, “Are we in control of our own decisions?”, reveals just how much our decisions are influenced by factors beyond our conscious awareness. For small businesses, where each decision can significantly impact our direction, understanding this balance is key. I’ve found that recognizing these influences can help us make more informed decisions, steering our businesses with a blend of heart and head. Watch this video.

Aligning Choices with Goals and Values

Francesca Gino and Gary Pisano’s work, “Why Leaders Don’t Learn from Success”, in the Harvard Business Review, strikes a chord with me. They argue for the importance of learning from failures, not just successes. In the small business realm, where each success is hard-earned, reflecting on what worked and why is crucial. This practice helps make decisions that align with our goals and values and build a resilient, adaptive business model. However, when I look back on my journey, I can’t even remember the successes. I attest every bit of learning to the many, many mistakes made along the way.

Steering Clear of Mental Pitfalls

Gleb Tsipursky’s podcast challenges the conventional wisdom of following intuition unconditionally. He points out the pitfalls of unchecked biases in decision-making. For us in the small business sector, this is a wake-up call to approach decisions with a mix of intuition and critical analysis. Implementing a structured decision-making process, as Tsipursky suggests, can safeguard our businesses from common traps like overconfidence or confirmation bias. He also talks about our predisposition to ‘savannah’ decision making. We are programmed for flight or fight responses, and that isn’t always great for making business decisions. Slow down.

Embracing Thoughtful Decisions

Matthew Syed’s concept of having a ‘black box’ in businesses, as discussed in his TEDx talk, resonates deeply with me. It’s about learning from every decision, good or bad. This reflective approach is something I believe is especially beneficial for small businesses. It encourages us to pause, assess, and then act, ensuring our decisions are not just reactions but are well-thought-out strategies that reflect our business’s long-term vision.

In wrapping up, peeling back the layers of decision-making has revealed a complex yet navigable path. By understanding the psychological underpinnings, aligning our decisions with our core values, critically evaluating our intuition, and learning from each outcome, we can steer our small businesses towards sustainable growth and success. In our next installment, where we’ll explore the practical ‘how’ of making these strategic decisions.


  • Ariely, Dan. “Are we in control of our own decisions?” TED. 2008.
  • Gino, F., & Pisano, G. “Why Leaders Don’t Learn from Success.” Harvard Business Review, 89(4), 2011.
  • Tsipursky, G. “Never Go With Your Gut: How Pioneering Leaders Make the Best Decisions and Avoid Business Disasters.” Career Press, 2019.
  • Syed, Matthew. “Why you should have your own black box.” TEDxLondonBusinessSchool. 2016.

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