“Good decisions come from experience and experience comes from bad decisions” (Mark Twain)
One of the restaurants that I typically frequent usually serves great food. On a particular evening, my wife and I felt like eating seafood and ordered a fish and calamari combination discounted special – a decision that we later regretted. The calamari was so tough and leathery that one could have quite easily manufactured a lady’s handbag from it. The fish was great, but I probably won’t order calamari there again. Experience seems to have taught me something!
Some life and business decisions are tough to make, others less so, but agonising over a decision (and sometimes procrastinating when a decision needs to be made) is not helpful – paralysis, anxiety and fear detract from clarity of thought and focus and disable execution-ability. Spending an enormous amount of time and huge amounts of energy on potentially mundane decisions is not helpful – equally, not getting to a point of decision on some of the tougher issues holds you or the company back from potential successes and the realisation of opportunities. “Serial succeeders” have learnt how to make decisions based on research, available information and speed – procrastination is not part of their behaviour. The following three steps can assist in crafting easier decisions:
- Make “simple decisions” habits – the idea here is that you build a habit that works for you, thus eliminating the need to make a decision. For example, if my habit is that I only eat a salad for lunch, there is no need to look through the menu. I thus avoid the decision entirely and use my energy for other things.
- Utilising “if/then” thinking to routinize unpredictable choices – Peter Bregman (Four Seconds) gives a good example of if/then thinking: “Let’s say that someone constantly interrupts me and I am not sure how to respond. My if/then rule could be if the person interrupts me twice in a conversation, then I will say something”.
- Use a timer – for tough choices, especially in business, Bregman notes: “If the issues on the table have been reasonably vetted, the choices being equally attractive and there is still no clear answer, then admit that there is no clearly-identifiable right way to go and just decide”. It helps if you can make the decision smaller, with minimal investment, in order to test it, but if you can’t do this, then just make the decision. The time you save by not deliberating endlessly and pointlessly will pay massive dividends in productivity.
Our decision-making as leaders may not be perfect, but not making a decision is worse. Learning from your mistakes and using experience appropriately to invest wisdom in your decision-making strengthens the possibility of success.