Decision Rights

boy leaning beside an old man
Photo by Pritam Kumar on

There was an old man who lived in a mountain.  He was wise and smarter than all the people in the region. When tough decisions were to be made, people would go the mountain and call him down for advice and in most cases to decide on matters.

One day a young boy was given three goats with a condition that he asked the man for any decisions he would make concerning the goats.  He accepted the goats and the condition. The young boy went to the mountain and called the man down for a decision. The boy asked, “I have three goats, I need to keep two for work and one for food, which shall I keep”?

The old man pondered the question. He asked the boy:

  • “Have you no other means of getting food”?
  • “What work do you need the other goats for”?
  • “What do your neighbors do”?

The young boy thought about the old man’s questions and decided that he needed time to answer. He asked the old man if were ok for him to go back to the village, think through the questions and come back. The old man was happy with that response and thought it wise to gather more information.

The young boy went back to his village and started asking questions about what others do with their goats. He traveled to other villages and asked them what they do as well. He gathered lots of information from various people. He asked the three questions over and again.  The young boy was very excited to learn that many people did exactly what he was thinking. They kept two goats and used the other for food.  He got a variety of answers about other means of getting food but all of them were different and complicated.

After days of asking questions, the boy felt ready to go back to the mountain and ask the man to decide.

The boy stood at the base of the mountain and yelled up to the old man “I’m back, please Man of the mountain tell me what I should do.”

The old man was busy tinkering and working in his garden he peered over the cliff and yelled down to the boy “Boy, keep two goats for work and one for food.”

The boy was confused. He didn’t know what that meant or which goats to keep. He went back down to the village and decided on his own what to do.  He killed the male goat thinking it was smaller than the females and would be unable to carry large loads.  He worked for days and weeks, he butchered and stored the meat. He was able to carry loads with the female goats but as time passed, he struggled.

He didn’t have any new goats, and no one would give him any. He ran low on food because he didn’t do any gardening or come up with any other methods of getting food.

Things were looking rough for the boy, he went back to the mountain and called for the old man. “Old man, you made a decision and told me what to do, now I have nothing. What went wrong”?

The old man came out and decided to walk down the mountainside to sit with the young boy.  After a while, the old man came to sit with the boy. He reached out and touched the boy’s face holding his chin up, so they were eye to eye. Then he said, “Having decision rights doesn’t make for the right decision.”

We are constantly faced with decisions that we may or may not have the right or ability to decide on. We do however have choices along the way that can enable, influence and inform. All lessons the boy learned were lost. The boy didn’t challenge the old man to learn from the questions that the old man asked. The boy simply accepted the decision knowing it was uninformed. He made choices that had consequences beyond that decision because everything felt overly complicated.

The weight and burden of a decision are relative to information at a point in time. The fidelity of this information informs. Knowledge, comprehension, and understanding are critical to making the best decision possible.  If a decision-maker has limited information to work with, they will decide with the information they have.
Who really holds the ability to gain the best outcome relative to decisions?

Where does the decision-maker truly come into play?

How can we become more effective in helping the old man?

Something to think about…

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