Upskilling decision-making

A few weeks ago, I made the wrong decisions on which route to take travelling to and from work. On the journey into work I chose the motorway. Seeing a big queue on the road to the junction, I made a snap decision and opted to go around and approach from an alternative direction. Previously, this approach had been successful in reducing my queuing time, but not on this occasion. I was prevented from getting through the traffic lights, even though they were on green, and was forced to wait for the next sequence. I joined the motorway following an HGV that had been behind me when approaching the original queue. This caused me minor frustration and made little impact on the overall journey. Returning home was another matter. I weighed up the factors that I was aware of and opted for the non-motorway route. I was progressing well until I rounded a bend and came to a grinding halt. Everyone else was avoiding the motorway as well. A routinely 30-minute journey took 1½ hours. The only positive was that I was able to listen to a full radio programme about reading. Did you know that reading words aloud improves your ability to remember them when compared to reading them silently? There was also a discussion about how shared reading groups can help with the management of chronic pain: the emotional and mental challenge of shared reading demands concentration and reduces the awareness of the pain[1].

My poor decision-making, on the day in question, was down to making decisions based on inadequate information. The consequences, while frustrating, were minor. Decision-making is a critical skill in our work and lives in general, yet we do not tend to spend much effort in trying to improve this skill by equipping ourselves with the necessary tools and practising their application. Such tools and practice will not necessarily help with the two trivial decisions I got wrong that day. I will continue to make similar judgements and some will be right and others will be wrong (although I suspect that I will always choose the wrong checkout at the supermarket!).

Rather than trying to provide a treatise on decision-making here, I thought I would extract the many references to decision-making from previous articles and put them together for the first time:

  • Making decisions requires energy and we only have a limited amount of energy for processing information. Making decisions uses up neural resources and small decisions appear to use as much energy as big ones. (This can be observed during sport when the decision-making deteriorates as energy levels flag. Also, a recent magazine reported two studies that showed playing video games or looking at social media for 30 minutes before undertaking a decision-making test led to poorer performance than doing nothing[2].)
  • Bad decisions are made when we are hungry.
  • It is a good idea to take a pause before deciding to act, but it may be necessary to act quickly.
  • Logical decisions are based on available and known facts, but these may not be appropriate to the actual situation.
  • The wisdom of crowds can help with decisions. Intelligent decisions are best with decentralisation, diversity and independence: diverse boards of directors make better decisions.
  • Perceptions determine our view and influence our decisions.
  • Preconceived ideas influence our decisions and we may experience confirmation bias.
  • Emotions influence our decisions.
  • Speaking to someone with appropriate knowledge is the preferred option for making a final decision.
  • Where relevant, it can be beneficial to use a variety of mathematical models to support or challenge decisions.
  • New technology will require new decision-making skills.
  • Artificial intelligence will provide information for decision-making.
  • There are no right answers in chaotic contexts.

Everyone in NDT, irrespective of level, is involved in decision-making. The output of the inspection process is used to inform decisions taken by others. So, it is incumbent on us all to improve our skills, not least because it could make choosing Christmas presents easier. I wish you all a happy and peaceful Christmas.

1. ‘Pain relief through shared reading’, The Reader, 31 August 2018. Available at:
2. R Pearson, ‘Could social media be harming your running?’, Runner’s World, 26 August 2021.
Available at:

Please note that the views expressed in this column are the author’s own personal ramblings for the purpose of encouraging discussion within NDT News. They do not represent the views of Jacobs or BINDT.

Letters can be mailed to The Editor, NDT News, Midsummer House, Riverside Way, Bedford Road, Northampton NN1 5NX, UK. Fax: +44 (0)1604 438301; Email: or email Bernard McGrath direct at

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