In a high-stakes professional situation, such as choosing an insurance company for a client or making investment decisions, there is little room for poor judgment.
It is the challenge of learning judgment at school that helps us understand our limitations before we enter the business world after graduation.
We can improve our capacity for good judgment early on by examining the choices we make in college — our successes as well as our mistakes.
Good judgment is often subjective and hard to quantify. It’s hard to say where judgment comes from. Critical thinking and analytical skill are essential subsets of good judgment; and we practice them all the time in college.
But it’s clear that our family, friends, community, values and personal character are equally important in the judgments and decisions that we make but are much more difficult to study.
Unfortunately, it’s extremely difficult to teach students how to make a good judgment call in the classroom, simply because good judgment is subjective.
Also, outside of the classroom there is a huge range of judgment calls that students can learn from.
For example, the Associated Press reported last week that in 2010 a group of federal employees blew $823,000 on a five-day conference in Las Vegas. The employees stayed in luxury hotel suites, threw private parties catered by room service and spent $75,000 for a team-building exercise. The conference violated federal contracting regulations and far exceeded the government’s meal budget of $71 a day.
How many taxpayers can afford to spend more than $71 per day on meals?
This is not an indication of a lack of critical thinking or analytical skills. It was simply a lapse in judgment.
Those employees who did not exercise good judgment are now seeking new employment.
But what about when a judgment call isn’t so black and white?
On March 30, The Wall Street Journal published an article about a man who claims to save his company a few thousand dollars in cab fare by biking to meetings in cities such as New York City and Mumbai.
Yet he expensed the $180 Dahon bicycle, bought on sale, to his private-equity firm.
The image of someone showing up for an important business meeting drenched in sweat and the distinctive odor of hard physical work seems unprofessional.
In an August 2010 Harvard Business Review guest blog post, Brook Manville argued that a critical piece of the judgment puzzle is experience. Case studies can act as substitutes to some extent, but real-life experience will never be supplanted by texts. It is up to students to be aware of the complexity of judgment and to seek out experience now in order to be better prepared for a future career.
In a competitive work environment post-graduation, snap judgment skills are essential for people in positions of responsibility — which is where USC students want to be, isn’t it?
Emily Wang is a sophomore majoring in business administration. Her column “Business Matters” runs Tuesdays.