The discipline of big decision making
As we’re presented with important decisions, it’s easy to procrastinate or become immobilized. Over time, the stakes get higher and our decisions affect more people. To withstand the pressure of major decisions and keep moving forward, I’ve outlined habits I revert back to when big decisions arise.
Before leaving corporate life to raise our kids, my wife was wrestling with a decision for months. At the time, she was not sleeping well. The workload was causing her to neglect her health too. Recognizing the need for a change though feeling too overwhelmed to decide, we scheduled a day or so away at the spa. No work, agenda, or responsibilities she was free to rest up, relax, and recover. Before returning home less than 48 hours later, she knew what she had to do.
Don’t make big decisions when you’re off your game. Being clear headed and calm is invaluable. Sleep, food, and exercise all play a part in our mental capacity. Their presence or absence continually impact our lives.
Think back on past experience. While our victories can be enlightening, our failures are often more useful instructors. Those unwilling to learn from their mistakes are doomed to repeat them. For me, writing is part of my reflection process. I’m constantly evaluating past situations based on my current understanding.
Over the years, I’ve found it enlightening to revisit the same experiences regularly. As we learn and grow, it’s likely our own history will reveal new insights. There are a few anchor moments that serve as a baseline time and time again. Those this can be somewhat painful at times, our past experiences continue to shape us.
Imagine you’re juggling 6 balls. Some are rubber, some are steel, and others glass. Rubber will bounce back quickly if dropped. Steel won’t bounce, but it likely won’t be damaged. Glass, unfortunately, won’t take a hit. You can’t choose how fragile the balls are but if you’re deliberate, you can let the right ones fall.
At any time there are dozens are competing priorities. Time, cost, quality, and satisfaction are just the tip of the iceberg and they rarely work in unison. It’s important to spell out what’s most important and be willing to compromise on the rest. We’ll never be perfect, but we can choose where to double our efforts and what we should let slide.
It’s also helpful to assess the consequences. Some choices have limited consequences while others may be painful to recover from. Decisions with a large upside and limited downside are usually a great place to start.
As leaders, common tradeoffs include:
Due to so many tradeoffs, there is rarely a ‘right choice’. Optimize for the most important factors and let the rubber bounce.
In 2017, our team at Polar Notion was pulled into a law suit. The experience shared by fellow business owners and entreprenuers proved priceless. Not only did their perspective help reframe my expectations, we went into the situation more informed and level headed.
Ask others who have made similar decisions and whose insight you trust. Leveraging their expertise and insight, filter your situation through their perspective. Beyond settling for ‘what would you do’, inquire about a time when they were in a similar position. ‘What did you do’ will lead away from speculation and toward real world experience. You path will be different but the exercise can reveal new insight.
In 2014, separate from our existing business, we tried to launch a software company. The market seemed solid and the technology worked well… the issue was our commitment to the idea. Allowing ourselves to be distracted by other projects, the failure can be attributed to our level of commitment.
The final and most important step is taking dedicated action. More often than not, failure can be traced back to weak commitment, not the quality of our decision. When you take action, commit fully. A mediocre decision, fully execute beats a great decision with half-hearted effort.
If you have take the time to rest, reflect, weigh tradeoffs, and gain perspective you should trust your conclusion enough to move forward confidently.