I once heard about a checklist for making decisions consisting of three simple, sequential questions. Does a decision need to be made? Do I need to make that decision? Does it need to be made right now? If the answer to any of those is ‘no’, then you’re off the hook, decision-wise.
I’ve always thought it was a slightly flippant way of looking at things, but hey, I’m a slightly flippant kind of chap so I kind of liked it. Sometimes there actually doesn’t need a decision, and rarely right now. So when I have considered it, it’s usually to get more information or opinion so the eventual decision can be more informed and, as a result, better.
But the last one – does a decision need to be made now? – brings danger with it. Because in a dynamic, fast-changing situation every delay could mean another potential option has been lost.
Imagine you’re driving down the motorway. Every time you pass a junction, you’re ruling that way out as a potential part of your journey for the day. A lot of the time that’s because you know where you’re going, so that’s a considered, thought-through and sensible decision. If you want to get to South Wales from London, stick on the M4 and you can’t go wrong.
But what if you’re not sure where you should be going? What if you were thinking of maybe going on holiday for the weekend but every time there was an option you bottled it? On past the junction signposted Oxford, past the Cotswolds, not sure about Dorset and couldn’t decide on whether to pick up the M5 down to Devon or Cornwall. And before you know it, the Severn Bridge is looming into view and you’re going to Wales not because you decided to but because you didn’t decide anything else and now you’re on the bridge and Wales is on the other side and you can’t stop or turn back so guess where you’re going on holiday…?
[Apologies here to anyone who isn’t familiar with the geography of the UK – please find details here – suffice to say my wife is from South Wales and it’s probably the trip I’ve done more than any other so it’s etched into my mind. Feel free to transpose your own well-worn road route.]
My point is that if you leave every decision to the final point then actually you’re not making a decision at all. It’s an illusion of decision making served up as leadership, when it’s actually just indecision for starter, procrastination for main course and inevitability for pudding. All followed by a cheese board of bullshit when you claim that the end decision was the only option.
Of course it was the only option in the end, but that’s because all the other possible options whooshed by one by one.
Taken to a completely ridiculous theoretical endpoint, in the current world, that’s how someone might end up having to close all schools the day after the first day of term! I mean, just imagine!!
Decisions, therefore, come down to a exploration of the information you have in front of you, and a judgement on whether it’s enough.
Yes, bring other people into the decision-making process if you like. People you trust; people who might offer a new perspective; people who’ve experienced something similar perhaps.
By all means check if there really needs to be a decision made right now or whether there’s more time to gather more information.
Perhaps even try it out in a small way, like putting a splodge of paint on the wall to see if you like it as the light changes in the room through the day.
But for crying out loud, at some point just crack on with it, okay? Otherwise you’ll be sitting in Wales on holiday, wondering if you can find somewhere who’ll do a Devon cream tea.
You’ll never have all the information you need to make a decision. If you did, it would be a foregone conclusion, not a decision.David J Mahoney, Jr.
Yes, well said sir.