Archive for the 'Decision' Category

Decision: The most important thing.

17 March 2006

What is it for you? The very most important thing you could be doing?

What’s the most important relationship in your life? The most important business partner? The most important client? The most important project? The most important purpose or calling?

Each of us has to figure out the answer to this and then live as though the answer made a difference. It would be easier if we could come up with a single answer for all contexts and leave it at that. I might say “The most important thing in my life is my family,” and not worry about my projects, my working life, my vocational purpose. But I don’t spend 24 hours a day with my family. They have projects and purposes of their own, and I have professional projects that go far beyond what my family cares about. So I have to answer this question over and over, in each context of my life, and I have to do it not just once in a while, but constantly, right down in the flow of time.

I said before that the “keep it simple, stupid” approach to personal organization is to (1) decide what’s most important, and (2) do that first. But how do we decide what’s most important? I’m not sure I’ve found a definitive, once-for-all answer, but some approaches clearly work better than others when considering whether Action X is the most important thing you could be doing. The negative statement of the principle goes like this:

If you can skip Action X and still attain your dreams, it’s not that important.

This is good for weeding out things that simply aren’t that important. But among all the things that we do need to do to attain our dreams, how do we find the most important one? Here’s a version of the positive statement of the principle:

The best next action to take is the one that does the most to take you in the direction of your dreams.

Vague enough for you? Work with me for a minute. If you’re driving your car down a highway, there are many things that are important for reaching your destination. Among them:

  1. Knowing what your destination is.
  2. Knowing how to drive.
  3. Having a car.
  4. Keeping the car in good working order.
  5. Staying alert.
  6. Taking necessary pit stops–for the car and for yourself.

Sometimes, yes, you want to pull off at the scenic overlook to soak in the majesty of the surroundings. You may or may not want to drive with music playing, or a companion for conversation–and maybe to split the driving. There are different things you do when the tank is full and when it’s approaching empty. There are different things you do when you’re sleepy versus when you’re wide awake. You drive differently in the rain or snow than in the sunshine. Push the metaphor as far as you like.

But in general, you want to avoid deal-breakers. E.g., you keep oil in the car and you pay attention when the “check engine” light comes on. (Please do as I say, not as I do.) If your goal is to drive across all the continents 80 times before you die, 35 m.p.h. probably won’t get you there–you’ll need to maintain a steadier, higher speed. If you have a traveling companion (and we all do, whether in personal or business life), you’ll want to maintain good relations. And so on–there are many dimensions to this, and if it were easy, it wouldn’t be life.

The things that do little or nothing to help you along your way?  Ignore them as much as you can.  This is no more than an application of the Pareto Principle.  That thing on your docket that would help you move forward on two or three or four of your lifetime goals?  Do that.  That smallish thing that could sabotage your plans if you don’t hit the imminent deadline for it?  Do that.

The short version:  Skip the stuff that doesn’t get you where you’re going–and be tough with yourself about determining what really gets you where you’re going.

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Decision: Two from Luke Wroblewski.

16 March 2006

Luke W. offers these two posts related to decision-making from his SxSW Interactive notes:

SxSW: How to do Precisely the Right Thing

In a nutshell, Dan presented a deviously simple formula for decision-making: expected happiness = odds of gain X value of gain. In other words, how good a decision is depends on the risk (odds) and the size of the pay-off (value). The problem is people are quite bad at estimating both odds and value and the reasons for this are tied to how we make sense of (perceive) the world around us.

SxSW: The Wisdom of Crowds

The reason collective intelligence can arrive at a good decision is that every individual in the group has some piece of information about the solution as well as some misconceptions or incorrect assumptions. When put together, each individuals errors fall off and their unique perspectives combine to create the right answer. There are, however, circumstances that need to exist for the wisdom of crowds to work effectively. […]

Decision in the flow of time

11 March 2006

In an earlier post, I cited Jeff Bewkes’s comment that “you must make decisions as fast as possible.”  In his view, the best way to proceed is by iteration:  “You go, you talk, you act, and you check back on how did it work. You adjust course as you go, and it turns out that’s the fastest way to move.”

Bewkes understands that in business or in any other area of life, you always are making decisions–whether you mean to or not, whether you do it consciously or unconsciously.  He chooses to do it quickly and consciously, which is one of the reasons he’s admired as a fine business leader.

When I’m clicking well, I know what I’m doing and I know that I’m doing it.  I’m choosing consciously to do A rather than B–because A is more important.  When it comes to the things in life that are most important, there is no waiting for “later”:  we’re always deciding, right-now-this-instant, whether the supposedly important things of our life are really important enough to merit our attention in the current, precious moment.

The best achievers in life give their attention to the biggest things.  They do it preferentially.  They do it even if it means overlooking the sort of quotidian chores that most of us focus on.

Life is precious.  “Do not squander time, for that is the stuff life is made of.” You could be dead by tomorrow.  Decide now what you will make of this moment, and the next, and the next.

Decision: Taking versus making.

7 February 2006

Usually we talk about making decisions; lately I’ve been talking about taking them. We all do make decisions all the time, but we still make them even when the process is passive and unthinking. I use “taking” to indicate the level of active engagement that I think marks a truly effective process of decision.

Taking a decision implies taking action and taking responsibility for what you do and the outcomes of what you do. Exercising your faculty of decision in this way means taking on life actively as it comes to you, not operating by default.

Take decisions and take charge. It’s the only way to really live.

Decision: Jeff Bewkes.

30 January 2006

I’m fascinated by Jeff Bewkes, the #2 guy at Time Warner who headed up the HBO hit factory in the 1990s/early 2000s. Fortune has a short feature on him near the bottom of this page.

Key excerpt relevant to the faculty of decision:

“I don’t want to make somebody uncomfortable by being frank,” he says. “But you’re trying to find as much transparency as you can. It’s an interesting combination to be as open as you can and as loose as you can, but you must make decisions as fast as possible. You keep the decisions transparent, and that allows you to correct them, because nobody figures this stuff out in one shot. My theory is iteration: You go, you talk, you act, and you check back on how did it work. You adjust course as you go, and it turns out that’s the fastest way to move. So you’re always moving and you’re always deciding and you’re always getting new information. You can actually provoke information by doing things that you can’t figure out if you just sit there thinking.”

Bewkes’s idea of constant decisions and constant feedback meshes well with the concept of O.O.D.A.

Decision: Outlook versus technique.

28 January 2006

Human ingenuity, especially in the contexts of military and management science, has derived many techniques to augment common sense in making sound decisions. As an example, this site introduces several well-established approaches, including Pareto analysis, cost-benefit analysis, and decision trees.

It’s true enough that anything can be hard when you don’t know how to do it. But think it over: in your experience, do more people run aground for not knowing paired comparison analysis, or for lacking the outlook that they must take decisions in matters that are important to them?

I like that term–taking a decision. To me, it aptly conveys the quality of the action required. In my experience, good decision-makers are thouse who actively take decisions as they are confronted with them. We all decide constantly, even if most of the time we are deciding to go to work or eat lunch or otherwise follow exactly the same habits we displayed yesterday. The best decision-makers, I suspect, differ from the rest of us because they take more responsibility for these decisions, moment by moment and day by day. It may have less to do with the quality of the decisions themselves, since all of us will have our blunders, and more to do with the emotional or psychological mindset that girds a person to take matters in hand.

Many top performers feel fear just like the rest of us, but–unlike us ordinary or low performers–they opt to decide anyway. They understand that their decisions may not work out. Failure will come. With it will come more opportunities to decide anew between all the competing options that present themselves to the human animal every day. The best decision-makers–who among the world’s truly effective people–know that this is nothing to fear.