Going against your Instinct: Quick decisions with incomplete data

If the pandemic taught us anything, it was that sometimes you must make decisions with partial, and incomplete data. You don’t always have the luxury of running the reports, modelling different scenarios, or doing thorough research. As CFO’s know, there are key moments when decisions need to be made and made quickly.

This is the antithesis of everything your qualifications, experience and the reputation of the profession has stood for. Calm, steady and considered. But that was yesterday. Today the world is much quicker. While you are doing your research, the head of marketing used ChatGPT to come up with a pretty good answer that will do. By the time you return you’re two days behind.

To survive today you need to draw together your experience, expertise, and insight and back yourself to put forward your best estimate. The problem is that doing this feels scary, stressful, and almost careless. But it is what business needs and wants.

The truth is that you can work on 50-60% complete information and still put forward a great suggestion and ideas. After all, how often in the last 40-50% of your research time and effort have you substantially changed your position?

Sensations hold you back

If you look closely at what holds you back from sharing your insights when working with incomplete data, it is usually based in a sensation that you are experiencing in your body. It’s not always obvious, but there are clues. You might say things such as This doesn’t feel right, or, I’m not comfortable sharing this with the ELT just yet. These are comments based on what you are experiencing in your body.

To be at ease with sharing information and making decisions based on incomplete information you need to have a process for deactivating these sensations. If you don’t, they will keep you silent. That’s what this new world is asking you to do.

Don’t Ignore the Sensations

Most people try to get past these sensations with two basic strategies that just don’t work.

The first is to simply avoid. They avoid situations where they will experience the sensations – they just won’t even consider sharing their insight when they have incomplete information. They stick to their position under the belief that it is better to be a week late, right and out of date rather than available and useable.

The second strategy used is one of suppression. This is the old feel the fear and do it anyway. The strategy sets you up for a struggle in your day. Your experiencing sensations that are saying to not do something, but you then suppress that and share anyway. This has long-term consequences. For the next week, whenever you think of the advice you gave you re-experience the sensation that you had to suppress. That’s no fun.

An additional problem that arises from these strategies is Groundhog Day. While you may get through this current situation by avoiding or suppressing, when you next have to share your insight based on incomplete data you will experience the same sensations again.

Experience the Sensations

A better way to deal with the sensations is just to experience them. Give 100% of your attention to them and experience what you are feeling in your body. Don’t label the sensation (fear, nervousness, etc), don’t make it right or wrong, don’t justify it and don’t explain it away. Just observe it and see what it does. As you observe them they will fade.

Nothing Lasts Forever.

After a short time (perhaps a minute) you will notice that the sensations that you are experiencing will fade. It might start off intense, but as you pay close attention to it, it will fade and dissipate. As it fades it won’t have the same hold over you it once did. The more you experience it by simply observing it, the quicker it will fade.

When the sensation fades it won’t interfere with your ability to share your insights even when there is missing or incomplete data. You can then combine what you can see in the data with your knowledge of the business and make a meaningful contribution to your team. This is what business wants from finance leaders in 2023.


Darren Fleming is an expert on mastering your mindset. He is a speaker, trainer and mentor to senior leaders wanting to master their mindset.

His latest book Mindset Mastery – Do less. Achieve more is out now.

Get a sample chapter at www.MindsetMastery.online