The Day You Became a Better Decision Maker

28 Jul The Day You Became a Better Decision Maker

Fear, uncertainty and doubt. It’s the ultimate crippler. And rarely is anyone immune.

I look back at myself in startup-building mode over the years and then as part of a management team shaking my head at the thought of just how much FUD was behind much of my decision making.

Fear of f*cking up. Fear of missing something mission critical. Fear of choosing the less optimal path. Fear of leading your people in the wrong direction.

But when doubt creeps and shakes your confidence, the compass needle can be all over the place.

Founders know the fear well.

They face it every single day. The self-doubt, often perpetually gnawing feeling as the stakes get higher. Bigger teams, bigger fundraise, bigger opportunity to win or lose and of course, with that: bigger decisions

Talking to a software startup founder recently, I was struck by her views on growth and its correlation to speed of decision making.

“This is the stuff that is keeping me up at night,” she explains. “How to make the right calls, big and small, for the best possible outcomes — faster. I’m looking in the mirror realizing I’m the bottleneck.”

What she describes is actually pretty universal. Making the decisions that will move the needle. In startups, speed is key.

Anyone who’s run a business or been in charge of any kind of project or frankly, who’s breathing at this very moment knows when the stakes are high, how paralyzing and when practiced regularly — emboldening — decision making can be.

A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan next week.

General George S. Patton Jr. said it in the 1940’s. It bears repeating today.

Itbegins with not taking oneself so damn seriously. You are not infallible. You are human. You do not control the universe. Embrace uncertainty. That’s what it’s there for.

1. Get clear

Get self aware and brutally clear with yourself on what you do know and don’t know. Identify your blind spots. Pay attention to what your gut and years of experience are telling you. This is where I find meditation super useful. (I’ve discovered TM to be the most useful after years of trying various kinds) It helps me clutter-free and strengthen my mind. Start fresh and clean with a beginner’s mind as you gather data and perspectives. What are your biases? Notice them. Clean the slate and come to it with a fresh perspective to assess.

2. Go deep

From there, go on a hunt finding the missing pieces to fill the gaps. Delegate, bring together a small team for instructive debate. When my co-founder (who’s now my husband) and I were growing our first media company, we had to decide when to invest in online. Seems like a silly question with only one answer today, but in 1999, spending the cash on a website that was interactive and community-driven was a big deal. In fact, it felt super cost-prohibitive for a small business.

Our first media startup in 99, when a great website was not the norm.

We were a print magazine and event-based publishing company. Having a website represented a big investment. Looking back, I’d say we waited a year longer than necessary to go online.

Did it affect our business? Not really. But maybe we could have had a more successful exit to Gannett Inc. years later had we established a bigger online community with more runway to get it done.

3. Map outcomes

List the possibilities. Play out each scenario to best and worst outcomes. Write it down. Use stickies. Literally, play it out. Make a decision tree if you need to. Step by step, detail by detail.

4. Make the call

Once you’ve considered all the options, all the data, necessary opinions, your biases, your lessons learned in situations that were similar. A deep, thoughtful breath never hurt anyone. Then make the call. Take swift action.

Or when as VP at a software company, I painstakingly took three weeks of awkward gyrations hemming and hawing to decide which five US metro markets to launch our million dollar launch of localized feet-on-the-street growth strategy. I really wanted to nail this new guerilla project.

I had all the data I needed at the outset. It shouldn’t have taken so long.

The real leverage was not in the market choices, but rather spending the time to recruit the right person in that market. That’s what success hinged on — the team — not the choice between Denver and Austin.

I’ve realized that when I ask the questions: What’s the worst that could happen if I choose option A? I literally say it out loud to myself. I sit with it. Allow myself to imagine how I would feel if that worst outcome happened. And then, and only then if I can live with the possible outcome that I hope doesn’t happen but may because of the level of risk involved, I decide whether to go for it.

5. Capture the learnings

I write lessons learned in a journal I use. I find the act of writing useful in extracting every possible lesson. Not just the mistakes, but the celebration, the wins in the decisions. What worked, what didn’t. Years laters, I still will flip through notes and relive moments, nodding my head or laughing at overworked I was at something that in the grander scheme of things didn’t matter nearly as much as I as convinced it did at the time. Post-mortem with the team. Expose the highlights and the lowlights. Help your team understand what went into the decision, so they can learn to be better decision makers, along with you.

Then, repeat. Repeat. Repeat. A muscle’s strength grows in direct proportion to how much it’s used. Make small decisions, make big decisions. Delegate decisions. All of it helps you build the muscle. Delegating builds your trust and empowering muscle as a leader.

Passionate about advancing human potential, I’m Kathy Sacks. Consider checking out
where I write about leadership, growth strategies and entrepreneurship.

*Hat tip to Naval Ravikant and Scott Adams for inspiring the title.

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