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Enslaved to Lady Luck

The more honest business executives have always admitted the role luck can play in their success.

For all the talk of superior strategies, more aggressive marketing et al - what often separates true contenders from also-rans is a bit of good old-fashioned luck: that applies to organisations as well as people.

But it is one thing to accept that luck can help to bring well-laid plans to fruition and quite another to trust entirely in luck for success. And many businesses seem to do just that.

According to research published this month, a third of managers in large organisations have relied on "hope or luck" in the past six months when making important decisions. And, says the study by California's Informix Software, 50 per cent say that in the past year a colleague has taken the wrong important decision.

Much of the problem appears to stem from a lack of the right information. Concepts such as knowledge management and data mining are all the rage, not just with consultancies and software firms but also, increasingly, with their clients. And yet 60 per cent of people in the survey aren't sure they always have the right information for critical decisions.

So much for all those systems and procedures that organisations are so keen on. They might frown upon the start-ups that make instant decisions, often based on intuition, in their efforts to gain a toehold in fast-moving markets such as electronics and retail. But what they are doing is much more serious - acting on poor information.

The study, Informed? An enquiry into decision-making in a fast-moving world, reports that nine out of 10 managers find decision-making stressful, and that 75 per cent are kept awake at night by it. Poor information was identified as a main cause of stress.

If making a decision gives you sleepless nights, it's natural to avoid it, or at least prevaricate, hoping it will be made for you by events. But if managers are not there to make decisions what are they there for?

And apparently there is a lot of "who's fooling who?" about all this knowledge overload. The study reports that of 1,500 managers surveyed globally, many don't much use the new technologies. More than a third of firms do not segment their customer base, and more than 40 per cent do not treat customers as individuals.