Three Longs & Three Shorts

A question of judgement

Author: The Bartleby column
Source: The Economist (

Judgement is the most prized quality that employers would like to see in their managers, that shareholders would like to see in the CEOs of their investee companies and voters would like to see in politicians. But what exactly is good judgement? Can you define it or frame it?
“Good judgment is a quality everyone would like to have. But it is remarkably difficult to define precisely, and many people are not sure whether they personally possess it. Sir Andrew Likierman of the London Business School has spent a long time talking to leaders in a wide range of fields, from business and the army to the law and medicine, in an effort to create a framework for understanding judgment.”
So what exactly is Sir Andrew’s framework for assess judgement? “He suggests that judgment is “the combination of personal qualities with relevant knowledge and experience to form opinions and take decisions”. And he argues that, thus defined, judgment involves a process—taking in information, deciding whom and what to trust, summarising one’s personal knowledge, checking any prior beliefs or feelings, summarising the available choices and then making the decision. At each stage, decision-makers must ask themselves questions, such as whether they have the relevant experience and expertise to make their choice, and whether the option they favour is practical.”
Sir Andrew makes an important distinction between expertise and judgement: ““Academics have expertise,” Sir Andrew observes. “They don’t necessarily have judgment.” People with judgment know when they are out of their depth in making a decision and typically then seek the advice of someone who has the right background and knowledge.”
Then Sir Andrew makes an even more interesting distinction between success and judgement: ““While good judgment is important to success,” Sir Andrew cautions, “success is not a signal that there has been good judgment.””
Sir Andrew contends that some people have innate skills that lend themselves to good judgement whilst others are not so lucky (and hence have to consciously train their judgement): “Sir Andrew accepts that some individuals are born with the ability to listen, be self-aware and better understand other people: all qualities that make good judgment easier. People with good judgment tend to have a breadth of experiences and relationships that enables them to recognise parallels or analogies that others miss. The ability to be detached, both intellectually and emotionally, is also a vital component.
Others may have the wrong sort of characteristics; a tendency to ignore others, stick to rules irrespective of context, rush into action without reflection and struggle to make up their minds. Many leaders make bad judgments because they unconsciously filter the information they receive or are not sufficiently critical of what they hear or read. The danger is that people ignore insights that they don’t want to hear, a tendency that can increase with age.”