Beyond Opinions: The Importance of Deciding to Decide

When Sachin Tendulkar became a Rajya Sabha MP, my neighbourhood got divided. Not that we were very united in any case, but this led to arguments like “He should have stuck to cricket” on the one hand, and “It is better to have Sachin in parliament than some other MPs” on the other. The subject of discussion was as such irrelevant, but strong opinions were a norm. I don’t know what it is about opinions but every one seems to have one.

opinionsNo wonder Facebook is so popular – friends (maybe not even that) getting together and chatting, exchanging opinions, many times on something quite irrelevant. Perhaps, in addition to the Like and Comment links, they should have buttons for Dislike, Raise Objection or similar to increase ‘user engagement’. Strong opinions would be guaranteed.

The plethora of views is quite diverse, sometimes quite amusing too. Like in the case of Tendulkar entering the Rajya Sabha. While the two views on whether it was good or bad were being exchanged, a third view came up. “It is good for government. Now they can earn money by charging money for Rajya Sabha TV. People will want to watch Sachin on TV.”

Opinions when they are expressed in apartment association meetings, gives one a good flavor of what it must be like running a parliamentary democracy. “We must not compromise on security in the complex” says one view. “Why are we spending so much on security?” asks the counter-argument. “We must charge for the amenities” says one view. “Did we not pay for them already?” asks another.

Opinions when expressed in newspapers or TV with data generate even more extreme reactions. “Stocks have gone nowhere for the past 5 years. Fixed Income and Real Estate have given better returns. Get out of equities” says one. Citing the same data, “As stocks have gone nowhere, this is not sustainable. You can’t have Fixed Income and Real Estate continuing to go up forever. Get into equities” says another.

Opinions when expressed by government and countered by opposition get even more acerbic (when they are heard that is). “We must raise fuel prices to tackle the fiscal deficit” says one. “Raising fuel prices will lead to inflation, and we cannot tolerate that” says another.

And then opinions at the global scale are another matter. “What is needed is austerity for countries ridden with excess debt” says one. “The only way to trigger growth is by government spending. This is not the time for austerity” says another.

The problem with strong opinions is that taking decisions become difficult, specially the tough ones. And standing up to them is even tougher. There are two sides to every coin as they say.

decideIf your position of power depends on whether the decision is accepted or works out or not, the likelihood of taking a decision reduces. The best option is to defer, to postpone, to evolve a consensus, decide not to decide, or better still, play politics on the decision.

Our associations and our governments can continue to dilly dally, either deciding not to decide or waiting for a consensus. But in markets, as Buffett said, you pay a very high price for a cheery consensus. The future is never clear. Uncertainty is the friend of the buyer of long-term values. Therefore, beyond the opinions, it is better if one decides to decide.

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