Napoleon said, “Nothing is more difficult, and therefore more precious than to be able to decide.” Strategies, careers, companies, they’re all made of decisions the way glass is made of sand. The quality of your decisions is what makes you valuable. It’s been said that the toughest decisions are the ones that can’t be delegated.
You would think people would give serious thought to such a serious business. Are you serious about decisions? Start with the Latin decidere. It means literally, “to cut off.” Decisions force us to foreclose other opportunities; jobs not taken, strategies never attempted, options unpursued. Would that sales gig in Houston have turned out better? You will never know.
Most of us will do just about anything to avoid uncertainty. We might defer decisions endlessly, thus surrendering what power we do have to control our own destinies. Or it’s like a Band-Aid; pull the trigger all at once. Making a call takes guts.
If surmounting your anxieties is step one, step two is letting go of your inner perfectionist because there is no such thing as a perfect decision maker. Even if you had all of the information in the world and a hangar full of supercomputers, you’d still get some wrong.
But there is a big difference between a wrong decision and a bad decision. A wrong decision is picking Door #1 when the prize is actually behind Door #2. The fault lied with the method. A bad decision is launching the space shuttle Challenger when Morton Thiokol’s engineers predict a nearly 100% chance of catastrophe. The method, in this case, is no method at all.
The distinction is important because it separates outcomes, which you can’t control, from process, which you can control. Wrong decisions are an inevitable part of life. But bad decisions are unforced errors. They are eminently avoidable and there are proven techniques to avoid the most predictable pitfalls.
There is, of course, no one archetypical decision. Some are drawn out and deliberative, others are made at the flick of a switch. In your business, you can’t tell employees what to decide, but you can train them how to decide, and select who does the deciding.
Some of our decisions will outlast us. We have those fading Polaroids because Edwin Land, in 1943, decided to answer his daughter’s question, “Why can’t I see the picture right away?” We have U.S. Steel because Andrew Carnegie wrote “$480 Million” on a piece of notepaper and J. P. Morgan said, “Yes.”
In your business as in life, the quality of your decisions is what makes you invaluable. Avoid the bad decisions.