The Lost Art of Making Decisions

At the end of one of my keynotes last year I was asked:

Tony, how did you know what decision to make?

In war, there is nothing worse than a leader that can’t make a decision. People die. While not as dire in business, your indecisiveness will slowly kill your product, your team, your moment, and eventually your company.

Make A Decision

I subscribe to a very basic philosophy when it comes to making decisions, make one. Simple, and yet the skill of making a decision is lost on most people. It’s one of the things that stalls products, infuriates people and destroy’s morale. Teams sit idle while they wait for a decision from the powers that be.

We get consumed by the things we don’t know, and place little emphasis on those we do. We subscribe to the idea that the more information we have the better; it will help us make a better decision. In many cases though, it’ll only make it that much harder.

I don’t mind a bad decision, but I abhor indecision.

The second part of my philosophy is, the only thing more important than making a decision is recognizing when it’s wrong. You will inevitably make a bad decision. That’s ok. Go back and learn from it, hopefully it’s not a costly one, but don’t dwell on it. Shake it off, and make another one. A bad decision is only better than no decision if you are willing to acknowledge, and accept, that it might have been the wrong one.

Lastly, once you make a decision, drive it like you stole it (i.e., own it). I take extreme ownership of all my decisions. I learned long ago that it’s not the best idea that wins, but rather the idea that is executed the best. If you don’t own your decision, it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy and become a bad decision.

Things I’ve Learned About Decisions

Here are ten things I’ve learned about making decisions:

  • The more decisions you make, the better you get at it;
  • There is never enough data to give you 100% confidence in the decision. 80% confidence is good for me;
  • The law of diminishing returns applies to any amount of “work” you introduce to the decision making process;
  • There is a healthy balance between data and intuition (gut) when making a decision. Your intuition, like anything else, needs to be nurtured (don’t expect to trust it right out of the gate);
  • If you lack the skill to make a decision, get out of the way and empower those that can;
  • Seek input from your team;
  • Be mindful of the impacts of your indecisiveness;
  • It’s ok if the decision contradicts the input you’ve received;
  • There is no such thing as the right decision, only the best one under the current circumstances;
  • At the core of making decisions is trust;

Yes, there is a concept of materiality (a.k.a significance).

Not every decision is equal, and their impacts vary greatly. Depending on the materiality of the decision, it can take time. Take the time to weigh your options, but communicate this to your team. Let your team know why the decision is delayed.

These principles have served me well over the years. They have been the foundation of almost every decision I’ve made in my young adult life. From joining the Marine Corps, to selling my company. To me, there is nothing lonelier than a team left sitting idle waiting for a decision.

So now, when I’m asked, “How do you know what decision to make?” My answer will be simple, “I don’t, I just make the best one I can under the circumstances.”

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