Judgment: Why It Matters, How We Under-Appreciate It, And How It Can Be Developed

The meaning of Judgement as a skill

The skill of Judgment is the ability to accurately assess people and situations, despite various emotional pressures and cognitive biases.

Lot of people have amazing judgment skills. They can size up people and situations in just one quick glance (a.k.a. Coup d’œil). Napoleon had this skill.

The role of Judgment in Business success

“Making judgment calls (especially about people, strategy, and crises) is the essential job of a leader. With good judgment, little else matters; without good judgment, nothing else matters.”

The above quote is borrowed from a book (Judgment: How Winning Leaders Make Great Calls) by Warren Bennis and Noel Tichy. The 2 authors have each spent decades studying and teaching leadership and advising top CEOs such as Jack Welch and Howard Schultz.

A few great examples of sound business judgement are: Steve Jobs (Rationalizing apple’s product portfolio, deciding to go for exclusive distribution for Apple), Howard Schultz (closing all US stores to perfect the art of coffee making), and Jack Welch (Rationalizing GE’s corporate portfolio).

The role of Judgment in non-business situations

Don’t get the impression from the above examples that Judgment is a faculty that is only useful for the big decision-making situations described above. It is a faculty that is useful in every sphere of life. For instance:

  1. Choosing people you want to be with
  2. Choosing people you want to work with
  3. Assessing business situations (e.g. Is your business going to be disrupted soon?)
  4. Deciding quickly what is important and what is not

On this last instance above, Einstein’s example is very illustrative.

Einstein distilled his theory of relativity from all the clutter of electromagnetism prevalent in those days.


Well, over time, he had developed a sound judgment of what was essential and what was non-essential. He remarked:

“I soon learned to scent out what was able to lead to fundamentals and to turn aside from everything else, from the multitude of things that clutter up the mind.”

You can read more here.

BUT: Most people do not appreciate the power of the faculty of Judgment

Below are some observations that make me draw this conclusion:

1. We don’t train our kids on Judgment.

We want the best for our kids. So, we end up taking their decisions ourselves. What to wear? What to eat? How to ride that bicycle? How to play? Whom to talk to? Whether to play with left hand or right hand?

2. Our schools also do not help us hone this faculty well.

I was in my engineering when I first heard about decision-making seriously! And then too, since I disliked the teacher, I made the mistake of disliking his teaching too!

Don’t get me wrong. We are indeed taught subjects such as Decision-making under uncertainty, etc. But I am not talking about decision-making in terms of analytical tools or frameworks. I am talking about decision-making in terms of developing it as a Mindset and as a Skill.

3. Our standard intelligence tests (such as IQ, GMAT, SAT, etc.) do not measure our faculty of Judgment adequately

In fact, this is the reason such tests are not indicative of our ability to achieve happiness and success in life!

You can read more on this here.

How we can hone this faculty

Judgment requires training your mind. With systematic practice, a person’s mind can be trained to assess anything. Here are the 2 basic steps:

  1. Identify what matters to you! What do you want to be able to judge? People? Situations?
  2. Continuously ‘train’ your mind’s neural network on all such people/situations. (If you are unfamiliar with neural networks, and are not getting what I mean by ‘training’, please read this.)

A few examples:

  1. Most females are very good in judging inappropriate male behavior. They can instantly tell if someone is ogling at them. How? Because, they train the neural networks of their minds to judge such people/situations. You can read more here.
  2. A great detective is awesome at judging crime situations. Poirot is a great (though fictitious) example. He instantly knows which clue to consider and which to ignore. How? Because he has trained his mind based on his past experiences
  3. An excellent traffic police man instantly knows which car driver is driving without adequate papers. How? He has trained his mind’s neural network on numerous past experiences.


The faculty of sound Judgment is a great faculty to have. We all can develop it. All we need is to first identify what judgment-situations matter to us, and then to train our mind gradually on all our experiences of those situations.

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