Deciding Factor

Learning how to make better decisions.

Course: Strategic Decision Making and Critical Thinking


When: November 6-11

Instructor: J. Edward Russo

Class size: 20 to 25

Where: Cornell University’s Johnson Graduate School of Management, Ithaca, New York

Cost: $5,900

Mission: To teach sound business judgment


Rock, paper, scissors? Quantitative supermodel? Getting in a hot tub with a therapist to get in touch with your inner self? These are just three ways to make decisions. The higher you rise, the tougher the calls. This course gives senior execs a more flexible system to fall back on when the buck stops with them and a way not to overrely on gut instinct or experience. You begin with a self-test on how you make decisions. Pick a random fact, such as the number of member states in the United Nations. Determine the highest number it could be and the lowest. The variance is your “confidence interval.” The narrower the interval, the more confident you are. The right answer is 191; if that number isn’t in your range, not only are you wrong, but you may be arrogant, too. Course instructor J. Edward Russo says typically 50% get it wrong. That’s a lot of bad decisions. The course then lays down a straightforward four-part strategy for better decision making: framing the problem, gathering intelligence, converging the solution, and then learning from the results. As to that last point, always ask “why” when faced with results. You should know whether you made the right choice or you just got lucky.

Student evaluation: John DuPont, VP of owner and franchise services at Marriott, is responsible for managing relations between individual hotel owners and headquarters. For him, the highlight was the discussion of framing issues. “Framing lends itself to a big-picture mentality,” he says, which has been crucial in his efforts to forge consensus in the face of conflicting priorities.

Want to go? Get more info at

Can’t go? Read Russo’s Winning Decisions: Getting It Right the First Time (Currency, 2002), coauthored with Paul J.H. Schoemaker.