Three little words

“As I’ve written in past memos, I have an indelible recollection of the first book I read as a Wharton freshman in 1963. The book was Decisions Under Uncertainty: Drilling Decisions by Oil and Gas Operators by C. Jackson Grayson, Jr. (who in 1971 would take on the role of “price czar” in the Nixon administration’s efforts to get inflation under control).

“The best and most lasting thing I took away from Grayson’s book – and the first thing I remember learning in college – was the observation that you can’t tell the quality of a decision from the outcome. This revelation had a profound influence on me as a 17-year-old and represented the first critical building block in my understanding of how the world works.

“As Grayson explained, you make the best decision you can based on what you know, but the success of your decision will be heavily influenced by (a) relevant information you may lack and (b) luck or randomness. Because of these two factors, well-thought-out decisions may fail, and poor decisions may succeed. While it might seem counterintuitive, the best decision-maker isn’t necessarily the person with the most successes, but rather the one with the best process and judgment. The two can be far from the same, and especially over a small number of trials, it can be impossible to know who’s who.

Three little words