15 Nov How to make better decisions
Making decisions is tough. There are always trade-offs, pros and cons, risks and rewards. But life generally requires us to make decisions, some big, many small. The problem is that decision making can be exhausting and lead to fatigue and when fatigue sets in, your decision making can become, well, questionable.
So what’s a busy executive to do?
A very wise friend once told me that “to decide is to kill”. He likened decisions to other ‘cides – pesticide, homicide, herbicide, suicide… To decide is to kill off another option, another future, another possibility. So make as few decisions as you can get away with. If a decision can be delayed without consequence, then hold off. Minimise your decision making on a daily basis. Barack Obama, for example, choses his clothing the night before, so that he minimises the little decisions at the start of the day.
On the other hand, some people like to time-box decision making and force a decision to be made so as to move on. For example, give yourself a 30 second rule to make decisions like what to eat from a menu, what exercise to do or what movie to watch. We have so much choice now, which isn’t always a good thing. Choice can be exhausting.
We often hear people say that gut decisions are best. Using intuition and emotions to navigate complex decisions sounds irresponsible, but neuroscientists such as Michael Gershon have coined the gut the “second brain” because it has the second highest cluster of neurons in the body. The gut contains over 100 million neurons, more than either the spinal cord or the peripheral nervous system. So, if someone says they’re making a gut decision, in a way, they really are.
When it comes to the bigger decisions, the ones you want to ponder and consider and scenario plan, there are plenty of analytical tools and processes to help (a quick google search will highlight this). One of the more unique tools is Cartesian Logic, developed by René Descartes in the 1600’s. It is based on 4 fundamental questions you ask yourself.
- What would happen if you did?
- What would happen if you did not?
- What would not happen if you did?
- What would not happen if you did not?
These questions are designed to challenge the most fundamental beliefs and preconceptions you may have in relation to a decision. The last question in particular can be frustrating, but enlightening.
Making decisions that affects others is a privilege, something that not everyone gets to do. Responsibility, choices and their close cousins, liberty and freedom, are easy to take for granted. So cherish your decisions, explore systems and processes, fuse intuition and analysis if that works for you and play with different approaches. Or don’t, the choice is yours.