AMICULUM Consulting Blog
Decision-making, President Barack Obama, and valuable lessons for pharma

We are all decision-makers and make countless decisions every day. Our decisions impact our lives and collectively our decisions over the centuries, especially from those who have held high office, have shaped human history. Decision-making is also the essence of business – particularly in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industry. There is a complex matrix of decision-makers and decision-making in pharma and among our customers. Decision-makers include scientists, medics, marketers, regulators, payers, clinicians and patients. The relative success or failure of a product is entangled in the decisions made from initial product conception, to clinicians prescribing choice and patients’ decisions to use the product. Understanding how we make decisions and identifying ways of improving decision-making is therefore important to us all.

There are countless theories from many fields including psychology, mathematics and economics about decision-making; however, simply considering how your organization makes decisions can offer valuable insight in itself. One observation about decision-making (among many) that is often true is that people spend too long making decisions that could and should be made relatively quickly and too little time making decisions that could benefit from more consideration.

Enabling decisions that would not benefit from extensive processing to be made efficiently maximizes the quality of the remaining, and arguably more important, decisions. Take this extreme situation as an example. If for every decision you made in a day, however trivial, you identified all the options, considered the positives and negatives for each option and then made your decision, you would probably struggle to leave your house in the morning. Furthermore, the quality of the decisions by the end of the day would be severely reduced.

So, in order to get through the day, we need to be selective about the decisions we invest a greater amount of time in and, generally speaking, we are. We make many decisions throughout the day either unconsciously or with minimum effort; however, sometimes in business we do not deploy resources as effectively as we should, sometimes even procrastinating on what could be quick and easy choices.

There are various tactics we can deploy to help us get through the day. Delegation is a tool often adopted by the most important decision-makers. President Barack Obama delegates some decisions (eg lunch and clothing choices) to his staff. President Obama subscribes to the theory that the more decisions you make the harder it is to make them. This simple tactic frees time and resource for him to focus on other more important decisions that, from his perspective, warrant greater attention. Of course, delegated decisions should still be taken by people who possess the necessary knowledge and expertise. The person choosing lunch for Obama, for example, must be aware of his personal preferences.

Ask yourself whether there are improvements you can make in how decisions are taken in your organization? Do you think the appropriate amount of time is invested in, for example, which endpoints to use in a clinical trial or where to invest the last part of a promotional budget? How much time is wasted in meetings discussing other relatively minor choices? In order to free time consider using the following tactics:

  • Take relevant decisions off-line
  • Take votes in meetings where time is limited
  • Create sub-teams of decision-makers
  • Delegate (where appropriate)

Of course, you need to reinvest the decision-making time you have generated wisely. Employing decision-making tools, such as AMICULUM Consulting’s smart decision model and multi attribute decision model, can help to support deliberate and evidence-based decisions. These tools can be used to support a wide range of decisions in pharma including communication strategy, portfolio decisions, investment decisions, and others. If you would like to discuss any of these tools please contact us using the details provided below.

Unlike President Obama we are not leaders of the ‘free world’, but the decisions we collectively make each day grow or shrink the profits of our company and, perhaps more importantly in pharma, impact the lives of patients around the world. It is therefore important to ensure that you reserve enough time and energy for key decisions and employ appropriate decision-making practices.

For more information about this blog topic or to discuss any of these ideas further please contact the team at team at