Decisions, Decisions

In Which Risks Are Worth Taking Jim Parker, a vice president at Dimensional Fund Advisors, writes, “Even the most self-declared risk-averse people take risks every day.” Parker notes that routine risks to our safety include crossing the road, exercising at the gym, choosing lunch and using electrical equipment. He adds, “There are the big decisions like selecting a degree course, choosing a career, finding a life partner, buying a house and having children. These are all risky decisions, all uncertain, all involving an element of fate.”

In making these decisions, Parker says we seek to “ameliorate risk by carefully weighing up alternatives, researching the market, judging possible consequences and balancing what feels right emotionally and intellectually, both in the short term and in the long.”

New research from Harvard Business School’s Michael Norton addresses how managers making decisions often err in one of two directions—either overanalyzing a situation or ignoring helpful information to go with their gut. More specifically, when deciding among potential products or employees, managers routinely take too much time considering all the attributes of their choices—even attributes that are irrelevant. Equally troublesome, their fear of the decision paralysis that can occur when evaluating too much information, often cause managers to decide to trust their instincts.

In an article discussing Norton’s finding, a sentence Dr. Seuss might have written caught my eye: “We know that sometimes people think too much, and sometimes they think too little. But we still don’t know the right amount to think.”

I suggest that when it comes to financial decisions, it’s always wise to have a trusted financial advisor in your corner who understands the tradeoff between risk and return and how to build a portfolio that suits your risk tolerance level. A financial advisor can help you think and make solid decisions, giving you the best chance of achieving your goals.

Parker also believes investors need help making financial decisions about risk. “Advisors,” he writes, “help us take an objective assessment of the potential risks and rewards of various alternatives, by taking a holistic view of our circumstances and by keeping us free of distraction and focused on our original goals.”

I couldn’t agree more. Invest without the help of an advisor and you may be exposing yourself to unnecessary risks — whether you’ve thought long and hard about your decision, or just gone with your gut.

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