Merge's Blog

Does the wisdom of Segal’s Law help or hinder decision making?

Segal’s law: A man with a watch knows what time it is. A man with two watches is never sure.

Segal’s Law is a humorous way of addressing the pitfalls that come from amassing too much information in advance of making a decision. In a nutshell, it suggests that the more data you obtain, the greater the likelihood that it will conflict with what you already know, thus complicating the process. No doubt, at some point, as a leader, you’ve found yourself in a similar situation.

But where is the line between too much and too little information? At what point do you have enough for effective decision making?  The answer is elusive, but ultimately, it lies in your personality. If you are detail-oriented, then you have a predisposition towards gathering as much evidence as you possibly can; after all, more data is better, right? Not if you have a more big-picture approach to leadership though. People who have a tendency to take a high-level outlook on things are more likely to shun what they refer to as the minutiae of the situation. Either way though, too extreme an outlook, whether it’s too much or too little, will not bode well for you as a leader.

My advice: do what doesn’t come easily to you. If you find specifics and fine points frustrating, then seek out more timepieces. But if you are right at home in the intricacies and inner workings of data, then start purging the number of watches you have around your wrist.

Well, what are your thoughts? Did Segal get it right, or is he bordering on the ridiculous? Why?


  • Merge — A great topic. Segal is dead on. I’m a details guy. Digging deep into an issue to explore possibilities is second nature to me. Unfortunately, many I work with do not want to go on the journey. As a result, I have been working hard on simplifying my messages and in making/supporting decisions with less information.

    Here’s what I’ve learned. I still have to do the deep dive to deliver a simpler message. In order to glean the best message, I need to understand the issue backwards and forward. But the message itself needs to be less, not more.

    With regards to decision making, picking the “right” information to assist with the decision is as critical as the decision itself. If my knowledge of a topic is scant, then I’m going on an exploration for resources. Once acquainted with the available resources, then I will identify the source and move onto my decision. I’ve reduced the number of resources from many to one or two. So far so good.

    • Larry, good to hear from you. And impressed that you are able to pull yourself away from the details even though it doesn’t come easily to you. My challenge is the opposite — I have a tendency to not go deep enough so when it comes to important decisions, I make deliberate choices to “check at least one other timepiece” (translation: seek out other perspectives).

  • Segal has it right. Too much information doesn’t mean the information will be any more beneficial to a good decision. Too often, decisions are delayed waiting for details that are unrelated to making a decision. The question always needs to be asked, if you have additional information, what would you do with that information relative to making a decision?

    • Thanks for your comment Jim. I can identify with the agony that comes from watching “paralysis by analysis” — when decision-making grinds to a halt because we’re waiting for “more data”. I agree with your succinct assessment — “If you have additional information, what would you do with that information relative to making a decision?” Great question to ask ourselves!

  • In my own opinion, i would rather make a simple decision, exposed it to various perspectives and dig dipper as more and more modifications are made to the initial made decision. After all, a somehow good decision is quite better than make no decision at all. Many of the advances in technology we have around had started based on the available data at their disposal. As time went by, researches were carried out and users perspectives documented to make way for a more robust and advanced technologies.

    • That is true Peter. The danger that exists with people who are predisposed to gathering more information is that they can fall into “paralysis by analysis”, and simply not make a decision at all.


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