The Value of Reflective Decision-Making, 2040’s Ideas and Innovations Newsletter, Issue 155

Kevin Novak
8 min readApr 11, 2024

Issue 155, April 11, 2024

Admit it, most of us are stressed out and often filled with anxiety. We are time-pressed. Overbooked. Distracted. Confused. Dumbfounded. Surprised. And potentially even trending to pessimism. We are trying to make sense of events we can’t control that are hurtling toward us daily through our news feeds.

A Moment in Time

We’re also grappling with the speed of change in the digital economy and our connected society. The news we consume is both fact and fiction leading to polarized factions across the world and strident beliefs. We have so much information coming at us that it may seem we are in constant reaction mode. Add to that mix we are now overwhelmed by AI hype and technological advances fed by a chorus singing of replacing workers with tech. At this hinge point in history, most of the world is completely confused and confounded with what AI is and isn’t, and its potential.

In a world where we seem to be swirling in perceptual chaos of constant change, we’re trying to figure out exactly what we’re supposed to be doing to grow our organizations without invading the privacy of our customers, ensuring we aren’t taking positions that alienate segments of our customers, identifying which technologies are the right solutions, figuring out how we should change processes of our work, attempting to understand what developments are advantages or disadvantages, and at the same time empowering our workforce to embrace digital transformation and the opportunities our deepening technical prowess offers.

Those realities are … well, real. You’d have to be living on the underside of a big rock not to be pummeled around with the pressures of keeping up, consuming the right information, exploring possibilities and attempting to stay ahead in minutes, not hours, days or years. What happens when we are operating and managing in times of stress and an overabundance of inputs? Among our many behaviors, there is a tendency to make reactive, not reflective decisions. We’re going to look at the intrinsic nature of each style and their different outcomes.

Decision-Making Under Pressure

Professor Shiva Roofeh writes in Rewire, “By actively paying attention to what triggers our reactions, we can better understand our mindsets and our underlying emotions to change what we may not like about ourselves.” Mindfulness is hard work, but an essential skill in running a modern organization. Roofeh adds attentiveness is, “the iceberg model: Above the surface is what others see, and what we ourselves may see passively. But beneath the water are our beliefs and emotions, the pieces of us that lead to our consequential behavior. It’s through the proactive addressing of this depth that we can truly transform ourselves.”

Reactive decision-making is not uncommon in managing disruptive times however it veers toward short-term thinking. According to Scispace, “Reactive decision-making is the process of making decisions in real-time in response to observed events or situations. It involves the ability to quickly assess the current context and dynamically adapt decisions based on the changing circumstances.” Reactive decision-making is quick, impulsive, intuitive and requires courage, resilience, and resourcefulness. When it is effective, it is the result of preparation and mindfulness as emotional and psychological infrastructure tools for acting in the moment.

But it can also be the result of faulty or misunderstood information along with the pressure to simply make a decision. Then comes the worry and anxiety hoping it was the right decision for the short and the long term.

In the best and fully informed case, this approach to decision-making focuses on anticipating and reacting to patterns and events as they occur, rather than relying on pre-established plans or deliberation (Training Zone). But in our current marketplace, how can one make the right and fruitful reactive decisions when the factors and variables seem to be changing by the day?

Reactive decision-making can be seen as a valuable approach, even leading to admiration of leaders who seem to be able to quickly synergize information, accept risk and dunk the ball. Adept reactive decision-making tends to come with years of knowledge assimilation and experience that enable quick assessment and digestion, how dots connect, and where patterns exist. When reactive decisions aren’t a result of knowledge, experience and critical assessment, there will be consequences now or in the long view. In those rare cases, by sheer dumb luck, they may have just gotten it right.

Recognizing the amount of work that is needed to assimilate knowledge, analyze information quickly, and understand patterns, critical thinking is necessary to keep the muscles of one’s mind in shape. As we have emphasized, critical thinking is necessary for leading and managing an organization in any challenging marketplace condition.

Behavioral Bias

Yes, but. In our practice and work with students, we see reactive decision-making that is often predetermined by innate responses. We deal with challenging situations with our typical, well-worn responses. We often make decisions based on conscious or unconscious bias informed by our personal experiences, culture, religious beliefs, families, and the people we know. According to Changing Minds, “The way we interpret information influences our behavior as an activating system that’s responsible for deciding to filter the information we receive like a bodyguard letting in what it deems important and keeping out what’s not.” That inherent default behavior and resulting action (really reaction) is not always in our best interests and can, in the organizational context, often lead to disaster.

So, many decisions are made on a more knee-jerk basis and can lead to a sense of displaced anger if the wrong decision is made. Here’s a real-life example. A team is working on a critical and time-sensitive project. It runs into unexpected problems and the temptation is to resort to a reactive approach. Alfin Johny writes in LinkedIn that, “Decisions are made hastily, focus being solely on immediate fixes rather than considering the long-term implications.” Although reactive decision-making initially dealt with urgent issues head-on, the complexity of the project can affect team members’ morale and productivity, increasing levels of stress, instability, and chaos. Short-term thinking can highjack the eventual successful outcome.

Alternatively, Johny adds if there are team members “who manage to navigate through the turbulence more effectively by demonstrating adaptability, resilience, and the ability to find opportunities within uncertainty,” the outcome is potentially more positive.

Agility at a Cost

Let’s consider how reactive decision-making may show up in your organization. The current leadership mantra is to be agile; put something out in the market or make internal organizational changes flexibly. In the desire for agility, too often the result is just “good enough.” The thought is that agile results will improve with ongoing iteration leading to ever-increasing product quality and the higher satisfaction of customers.

We may, to Johny’s point, make reactionary decisions resulting from immediate and urgent needs that lead to disastrous consequences later. A reactive decision in the moment without proper analysis could lead to the desired features and functions becoming impossible later, whether it be a physical process or software based system.

Reflective Decision-Making

Reflective decision-making means considering why what you did or plan to do matters. It means exploring emotions, feelings, reactions, and knowledge; and it can even trigger a catharsis. Think of reflection as exploring the “so what” instead of just the “what,” states Lumen Learning. Leaders with reflective mindsets can look into themselves to get a better idea of what’s going on in the outside world. They use what they have gained from past experiences to make better decisions in the present.

“Critically, a reflective mindset allows a manager to examine the space between their own experiences and the world around them. A reflective manager can look inward while at the same time looking forward,” states New Direction Capital. Open.Edu adds, “Reflective thinking requires you to recognize, understand and define the valuable knowledge and experience you bring to each new situation, to make the connections based on your prior learning and insight, and bring these to bear in the context of new events.”

Ashton refers to Daniel Kahneman’s book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, as support for slow thinking: “When faced with a difficult question, we often answer an easier one instead.” Ashton adds while “careful, slow thinking is hard work for the brain, it will get to the core of a problem to avoid it in the future. By taking a step back to interrogate and face a problem head-on, we can become highly effective decision makers during any crisis period.” And it’s not just about managing a crisis. It is a valuable leadership and management style that helps us counter our innate programming to not expend “too much energy” and simply focus on decisions that are easy.

Changing Minds deep dives into reflection: “A reflective thinker takes a subject and thinks slowly about it. They muse and develop ideas, often gradually and iteratively, typically seeding the unconscious mind with some problem and waiting for our deeper systems to come back with a suggestion.” Put in simple terms, reflective thinking seeks the best solution over something that is simply good enough. With reflective thinking, even based on a situation that seems to require a reactive decision, we can still seek to reveal the connections and patterns that we need to address both the short and the long term.

Reflective decision-making has critical thinking at its foundational core. Changing Minds adds, “A person who thinks reflectively is often open to suggestion as they seek the best answer. Even when they have drawn their conclusion, they may well be open to challenges.”

Action Planning

So, how do we deploy reflective decision-making in turbulent times? How do we resist the urge to solve a problem as quickly as possible to gird ourselves for the next incoming issues? Impulsiveness is not the way forward. Panic doesn’t produce long-term results. Being agile can result in disasters. The Socratic art of asking questions (often open-ended) with an inclusive, diverse team is a start.

This may be uncomfortable or unnatural but set aside reflection time each day to save hours wasted by tactic-less decision-making. Ashton adds, “Leaders must learn to balance reactive thinking with reflective thinking. In doing so they will be able to make the strong decisions required to pave the way for future years to come.” We would argue that more than balance, we need an approach that builds a bridge between the reactive and reflective by honing the skill to adeptly synergize information, reflect and come to the best potential outcome.

Roofah also believes, “By honing our self-awareness and being alert to the narratives being told in our minds, we can make healthy choices and build our capacity for empathy. It’s critical to be aware of how our own behavior and decisions can influence others around us, the organizations we work for, the customers we serve — an especially important lesson in times of worry and uncertainty.”

Upon Reflection

We work with our clients to try to remain open-minded about decision making. When a reactive approach serves the current need and is based on experience and wisdom and not bias, it can lead to exceptional results. Our observation is that it is hard to slow down long enough to reflect. The business world demands we move quickly and assimilate new ideas and technologies as they emerge. We know this is impossible. However, with an inclusive, diverse team we can spread the skillsets so that collectively we can reflect and then react in appropriate ways. And systems thinking with a holistic approach powered by critical thinking is the winning formula.

Explore this issue and all past issues on 2040’s Website or via our Substack Newsletter.

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Kevin Novak

4X webby winner, CEO and Chief Strategy Officer @2040 Digital (, IADAS Member, Speaker, Author, Science Nut