We make decisions all day every day. Some will echo for 10 minutes, others for 10 months whilst a few will echo throughout our lives. How do we distinguish and decide accordingly?
Here are a series of guidelines and heuristics I have found helpful in approaching decisions. Remember:
- Guidelines are like signposts. Just because they are there doesn’t mean we have to follow them.
- Heuristics are shortcuts. All shortcuts are helpful until they aren’t. Sometimes they add value, sometimes they don’t.
Decision Hierarchy: Does the Time Spent on a Decision Reflect its Importance?
- Ever find yourself in a meeting spending a long time discussing a topic that truly is of little consequence and almost no time on a really crucial issue?
- My experience is that:
- A lot of energy is spent on decisions that ultimately have very little importance personally or to an organisation but have some psychological importance to the decision-makers; and
- Comparatively little energy is given to those decisions that echo for years.
Pro tip: Rank issues by order of impact and assign meeting time and energy accordingly.
Decision Process: How Are We Deciding?
I have been in endless meetings where the larger the decision and the longer its impact, the more the group found it difficult to even think about it.
- Firstly, how much thinking does this decision warrant?
- Secondly, what is truly being decided? Is this about what is on the table or something else?
- Thirdly, who is ultimately deciding?
- If you have a say in the decision, what is your role?
- If you are not the decision-maker, why are you involved in the decision?
- What does a good decision look like?
- What do we need to get there?
Pro tip: It is important to think about the pathway to a good decision. At the very least, be clear about who should be involved and what do they need to consider.
Logical Vs. Psychological
- Expose a problem to logic and any problem that can be solved by logic will rapidly disappear.
- Whatever problems can be solved by logic will be.
- Whatever remains cannot be resolved purely by logic.
Pro tip: These are psychological problems and can only be solved psychologically. Your decision-making process needs to account for this.
Multiple Solutions: Why Stop at the First Answer?
- There is a tendency to think about a decision as a problem with an answer.
- There is thus a risk that we stop when we find the first logical solution.
- And yet, how do you know that there is only one solution?
- Or that the one you have found will lead to the best outcomes?
Pro tip: The more important the decision, the more possible answers (logical and psychological) worth exploring.
Perspectives: What Sort of Decision Do I Think This Is?
Pro tip: Ask yourself, what might others be seeing? This exercise, which invites us to consider the viewpoints of all stakeholders, may inspire: Go Around the Decision-Making Table.
Decision Deadline: When Does the Decision Have to Be Made?
We often want to get decisions out of the way and ticked off the to-do list. This may or may not make sense for a particular decision. So, ask yourself:
- By when does the decision have to be made?
- Is there a benefit to making this decision early?
- Is there a benefit to waiting until closer to the deadline?
Pro tip: Ask yourself: Am I making the decision now because it suits me or because this is the right time to make this decision?
Tracking Decisions: How Do You Know You Are Making Good Decisions?
One way to improve our decision-making is to keep track of decisions.
- What was the issue?
- What did we decide?
- What was the outcome?
- Are there any lessons to be learnt?
Whilst decision-making should not necessarily be judged based on outcomes, it can still be helpful to assess whether there are lessons to be learnt.
Pro tip: Temporarily set aside emotions. Rather than thinking in terms of right or wrong or good and bad, simply focus on what might be learnt.
Questions in the Image:
- How might I think about decisions?
- What is really being decided?
- Who is ultimately deciding?
- What process is being used?
Nurturing Curiosity – Daily Practice: This is part of the Nurturing Curiosity series of tools, insights and questions designed to help nurture curiosity as part of our daily practice. In point of fact, every interaction we have is an opportunity to question what we are observing and how we and others are seeing the world. Also remember that questions come in many forms throughout our day. I’m increasingly fascinated by non-verbal questions. I encounter them throughout my day. Because they are non-verbal, they often ask for non-verbal responses. For example, the rain hitting my window just now is simply asking me to pay attention.
What Thoughts Would You Like to Share? My name is Tom O’Leary, and I envision a world in which curiosity shapes leadership. In this world, leaders aren’t boxed in by traditional thinking or established playbooks. They are open to fresh ideas and diverse perspectives, fostering a culture of exploration and learning. My mission is to shift leadership focus from authority, over-measurement and control to curiosity, learning and innovation, empowering leaders to prioritise the essential. My journey, lived in a number of countries and through various languages, has always been driven by a profound sense of curiosity. In fact, life has taught me that possibility lies not so much in seeking answers but in learning to ask better questions – the ones that help prioritise what is truly essential. I welcome your thoughts, feedback, or personal experiences related to these questions or any insights they may have sparked.