How to improve your life: make better decisions.

If you take better decisions, you improve your life.  How to take better decisions:

  1. Improve your data
  2. Focus on what is Important (with Frameworks)
  3. Get other brains involved

Improve your Data

Feelings are not a good guide in complex decisions. Only evidence and the perspectives of people who have gone through similar decisions is good data for your decisions. Everyone has an opinion, not all opinions have value.

What data are you putting in front of you as you begin the process of deciding?

Focus on what is Important

The famed Eisenhower prioritization matrix has two axis:

  • level of importance,
  • level of urgency.

This gives 4 states:

  1. important & urgent
  2. Important & not urgent
  3. Not important & not urgent
  4. Not important & urgent

Zone 4 is deadly.

Stay out of Zone 4. Zone 2 requires the greatest discipline, and has the greatest long term payback.

You have to know where you are going. If you don’t have goals, you’ll drift into shit you don’t enjoy doing.  You’ll not build anything.  You’re headed down a dead end.

What are your lifetime goals?  Do you have them written down? Who do you want to be when you are older?

Imagination is the greatest human talent. It is vital to use your imagination to visualize your desired future. An architect doesn’t begin to build until the house is finished (on paper).

Get other brains involved

I was with the Arbinger Institute last week.

The biggest problem with human beings: Self Delusion.

We have such a huge need to see ourselves as being right, that we will ignore all evidence to the contrary.

Mastermind groups, peer advisory groups (EO, YPO, Vistage), mentors and coaches are vital to hold a mirror up to you and call out flawed thinking processes.

The person we find it easiest to lie to: ourselves.

Be careful. The question is not whether you are deceiving yourself, the question is where are you deceiving yourself.

How do you take decisions?

What do you do well? What do you not do so well?

“All my daughter really wants from me is a few minutes of my undivided attention… the richer people get the more money they spend trying to “

Dorothée Loorbach

I am bad with money

It has taken me many years to admit this to myself. It was only by admitting it that I have been able to take the steps to put my family on a path to financial freedom.

I have a long standing belief that if I am a good person and do good work, the “money thing” will sort itself out. This has proven to be a poor approach to a well balanced life.

I still have had a lot to learn about my relationship to money. Many of the lessons shared in this video resonate with my own (poor) relationship to money. I am so optimistic that the future will be better that I don’t hold myself to the discipline of saving and investing my money. It has taken several business failures and a clear objective reflection on my poor money decisions to start to accumulate money over the last few years.

10 lessons about money from Dorothée Loorbach

Dorothée was “successful” in her job and made a lot of money… and then she spent it all… until she was broke, unable even to bake her little daughter a birthday cake. She had to face her own flawed beliefs about money and how they were damaging her ability to live a life that matters.

The 10 Lessons on Money from the Video

  • 4:49 #1 Money is important
  • 5:55 #2 Money equals time
  • 7:00 #3 Money equals value
  • 8:03 #4 What people say doesn’t matter
  • 9:49 #5 What people say matters
  • 10:58 #6 It’s really simple
  • 11:33 #7 It’s not that easy
  • 13:05 #8 Being broke sucks
  • 14:35 #9 Stay Broke
  • 15:54 #10 Money is not important

What are you beliefs about money? Are they having a positive impact on your approach to life?

A leader should be interested in developing 2 competencies in the people within their organisation:

  1. Good Decision Making (to take good choices about how to use the resources of the organisation to achieve strategic plans)
  2. Influencing Skills (because if they cannot influence their peers, people will have to involve you every time…)

If your team doesn’t have #1 they are taking poor decisions.  If your team doesn’t have #2 they cannot execute without your support (you will be sucked in to every initiative).

In order to take Good Decisions, you need to ask great questions.  

Most people ask few questions and rapidly jump to a solution.  Great decision makers ask many questions and get many perspectives before they commit to a decision.  Here’s a set of great questions…

This set of questions was inspired by the Global Digital Citizen Foundation and by Vistage Issue Processing where we help leaders develop the ability to ask great questions to help leaders think more deeply and see new perspectives, clarify objectives and take disciplined effective action.

The Ultimate Guide to Great Questions for Critical Thinking

Divided into who, what, where, when, why, how…

Who

  • …benefits from this?
  • …is this harmful to?
  • …makes decisions about this?
  • …is most directly affected?
  • …have you also heard discuss this?
  • …would be the best person to consult?
  • …else has overcome a similar challenge?
  • …will be the key people in this?
  • …deserves recognition for this?

What

  • …is the impact on you?
  • …is the impact on those close to you?
  • …are the strengths/weaknesses?
  • …is another perspective?
  • …is another alternative?
  • …would be a counter-argument?
  • …is the best/worst case scenario?
  • …is the most/least important?
  • …can we do to make a positive change?
  • …is getting in the way of taking action?

Where

  • …else would we see this problem showing up in your life?
  • …else have you overcome this type of challenge?
  • …are there similar situations?
  • …is there the most need for this?
  • …would this be the greatest problem?
  • …can we get more information?
  • …do we go for help with this?
  • …will this idea take us?
  • …are the areas for improvement?

When

  • …is this acceptable/unacceptable?
  • …would this benefit you?
  • …would this cause a problem?
  • …is the best time to take action?
  • …will we know we’ve succeeded?
  • …has this played a part in your past?
  • …can we expect this to change?
  • …should we ask for help with this?

Why

  • …is this a problem/challenge?
  • …is it relevant to your goals?
  • …is this the best/worst scenario?
  • …are people influenced by this?
  • …should people know about this?
  • …has it been this way for so long?
  • …is there a need for this today?

How

  • …is this similar to _____?
  • …does this disrupt things?
  • …do we know the truth about this?
  • …does this benefit you/us/others?
  • …does this harm you/us/others?
  • …do we see this playing out in the future?
  • …can we help you?
[Edit: this poem was shared by my Dad upon receiving this post]

I Keep Six Honest Serving Men
Rudyard Kipling
I KEEP six honest serving-men
 (They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When 
 And How and Where and Who.
I send them over land and sea,
 I send them east and west;
But after they have worked for me,
 I give them all a rest.

I let them rest from nine till five,
 For I am busy then,
As well as breakfast, lunch, and tea,
 For they are hungry men.
But different folk have different views; 
I know a person small—
She keeps ten million serving-men,
Who get no rest at all!

She sends’em abroad on her own affairs,
 From the second she opens her eyes—
One million Hows, two million Wheres,
And seven million Whys!

The Elephant’s Child 

More Great Questions for Vistage Groups

Great Questions for Teaching & the Learning Process

Jim Collins delivered the Keynote at this year’s Vistage ChairWorld meeting to over 800 participants.

About Jim Collins

Jim Collins is a student and teacher of what makes great companies tick, and a Socratic advisor to leaders in the business and social sectors.  He has authored 6 books that have sold more than 10 million copies worldwide. His books include: 

  • Good to Great which examines why some companies make the leap to superior results,
  • Built to Last, which explores how some leaders build companies that remain visionary for generations; 
  • How the Mighty Fall, which delves into how once-great companies can self-destruct; and 
  • Great by Choice, which is about thriving in chaos—why some do, and others don’t.

Conor’s Video Summary of Jim Collins 12 Questions

Jim Collins shared 12 questions that come out of his work over the last 25 years.

These are my notes and reflections from his Keynote address.

The 4 part video series below gives a short overview of each of the 12 questions.

Video: Summary of Jim Collins’ 12 Questions

#1 strive for excellence

The first step is a conscious decision on the part of leadership to decide for excellence, to decide to build an enduring great company. Often leaders are enduring great individuals, but that doesn’t make for an enduring great company. Leaders must put excellence in the company over “success” in their own individual life. (This doesn’t mean that they give up a good life, but that they are willing to pay the price of leading an Enduring Great Company.)

Differences between level 5 and level 4 leader?

  • Humility. This is key to level 5. Deep genuine personal humility combined with a brutal will, a fierce resolve directed at something that is not about them
  • Leadership: People follow when they have the choice to not follow… otherwise it is just power.
  • Charisma – not necessary for Level 5 leadership (“never confuse personality with leadership”)

The author of this blog with Jim Collins, best selling author of Good to Great and Built to Last, at Vistage ChairWorld, January 2019

#2 First who, then what.

Right people, then trust them to figure out where the bus is going. Great vision without great people is irrelevant. Single most important talent: select great people for the key seats. Nothing is more important that key seats filled with great people.

#3 confront the brutal facts

What brutal facts must we confront? No opinions.

#4 Hedgehog concept

Fox knows many things, hedgehog knows 1 Fox loves complexity, hedgehog loves simple Intersection of Passion, best in world, drives economic engine Big is not equal to great (think restaurants- if it were to disappear it would leave an unfillable hole)

#5 20 mile march

Driving the flywheel  “Which push made the difference?” None… Cumulative effort consistently over long time Flywheel- causal links between, inevitability  “I admire Nike” “what do Nike do? Products so great that pros wear them” great products + social proof Execution 1-10… flywheel accelerator at quality of execution of lowest quality of execution  Best investment strategy “a highly undiversified investment where you are right” “We can make it up on a good day” fallacy.  Be super careful of overextension leading to missing your March Cycle across USA… booked the hotels ahead of time: have to make it, and prepare for tomorrow and the next day
“Part of the task of helping others is to be really hard on them… with love”

#6 bullets, then cannonballs

Innovation small, then massive support of small wins. Scale the right innovation. Scaling innovation is more important than innovation. Fail: Not enough bullets Bullets but no guts to fire cannonball Untargeted cannonballs

#7 don’t die

The first step of moving from good to great to built to last is “don’t die” I am terrified by good times. Complacency! Be properly terrified all the time. Fortune 500 85% carnage rate.

Jim Collins’ shares the 5 Stages of Decline of a Business

Productive paranoia:Prepare for the storms (cash to assets ratio 3-10 times greater)

The only mistakes you can learn from are the ones you survive 

#8 clock building or time telling?

Idea-> biz-> great company = enduring success

“The genius with a thousand helpers model is not building a great company”

Jim Collins

Shift from time telling (individual level) to clock building (at a company level). Every leader can grow to be the leader of a bigger, greater company. Don’t answer questions with answers… help people find their own answers, their own resourcefulness.

Steve Jobs 2.0 – had a yoda who helped him create a culture of geniuses.  What’s your leadership 2.0?

#9 preserve the core, stimulate progress 

Yin & yang Core set of unchanging values and purpose, constant progress towards your north star

#10 What’s our BHAG?

Time frame 10-25 years… anything less is just base camp

“The best people want to do the hard things”

Jim Collins

A Good BHAG frightens mediocrity away. Test of BHAG – does it repel some people?

#11 return on Luck

Luck event:

  1. You didn’t cause
  2. Consequences 
  3. Can’t control

Get good at making the most of when luck happens. How do you handle the unexpected? Use both good luck & bad luck (crisis allows change) to improve.

#12 Stop Doing list

Only doing is not discipline. True discipline is about what not to do first.  What should you not be doing?

Peter Drucker – age 65 had written only 1/3 of his books. Age 86 wrote 10 more books.

“You will survive, you will probably succeed… The question Mr Collins is how to be useful”

Peter Drucker (to young Jim Collins)

More from Jim Collins

Are you a Level 5 leader? How do you address these 12 questions? Where do you struggle? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

“Progress is impossible without change. Those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything” 

George Bernhard Shaw

If you can’t change your mind, then you’re not using it.

Adaptability is important.

If you don’t change and update your world view based on new information and new perspectives, you are dangerous.

If you tend to fight to be “right”, you are dangerous… mostly to yourself and your future.

How to open up to change?  Ask great questions: Read How to ask great questions? and 15 Great questions to ask your kids

In his TED talk, Stephen Duneier explains that what defines him are not titles, but an approach to decision making that transformed him from someone who struggled with simple tasks to a guy who is continuously achieving even his most ambitious dreams.

For thirty years, he has applied cognitive science to investing, business and life. The result has been the turnaround of numerous institutional businesses, career best returns for managers who have adopted his methods, the development of a $1.25 billion dollar hedge fund and a rapidly shrinking bucket list.

“Every one of my report cards basically said the same thing: Steven is a very bright young boy, if only he would just settle down and focus.”

“What they didn’t realize was I wanted that even more than they wanted it for me, I just couldn’t. And so, from kindergarten straight through the 2nd year of college, I was a really consistent C, C- student. But then going into my junior year, I’d had enough. I thought I want to make a change. I’m going to make a marginal adjustment, and I’m going to stop being a spectator of my decision-making and start becoming an active participant.”

“And so, that year, instead of pretending, again, that I would suddenly be able to settle down and focus on things for more than five or ten minutes at a time, I decided to assume I wouldn’t. And so, if I wanted to achieve the type of outcome that I desire – doing well in school – I was going to actually have to change my approach. And so I made a marginal adjustment. If I would get an assignment, let’s say, read five chapters in a book, I wouldn’t think of it as five chapters, I wouldn’t even think of it as one chapter. I would break it down into these tasks that I could achieve, that would require me to focus for just five or ten minutes at a time. So, maybe three or four paragraphs. That’s it.”

“I would do that and when I was done with those five or ten minutes, I would get up. I’d go shoot some hoops, do a little drawing, maybe play video games for a few minutes, and then I come back. Not necessarily to the same assignment, not even necessarily to the same subject, but just to another task that required just five to ten minutes of my attention. From that point forward, all the way through to graduation, I was a straight-A student, Dean’s List, President’s Honor Roll, every semester.”

“I then went on to one of the top graduate programs in the world for finance and economics. Same approach, same results. So then, I graduate. I start my career and I’m thinking, this worked really well for me. You know, you take these big concepts, these complex ideas, these big assignments, you break them down too much more manageable tasks, and then along the way, you make a marginal improvement to the process that ups the odds of success in your favor. I’m going to try and do this in my career. So I did. I started out as an exotic derivatives trader for credit Swiss. It then led me to be global head of currency option trading for Bank of America”

Mr. Duneier teaches graduate courses on Decision Analysis in UCSB’s College of Engineering. His book, AlphaBrain is due for release in early 2017 from Wiley & Sons. Through Bija Advisors, he helps business leaders improve performance by applying proven, proprietary decision-making methods to their own processes. His artwork has been featured around the world and is represented by the Sullivan Goss Gallery. As Commissioner of the League of Professional Educators, Duneier is using cognitive science to alter the landscape of American education. He is the former Head of Currency Option Trading at Bank of America and Emerging Markets at AIG International.

For more on achieving goals, check out 6 Reasons we Give Up on Goals and Finding Purpose and Defining a Vision for your Life.

The more choices you make throughout the day, the harder each one becomes for your brain.  As it tires, your brain looks for shortcuts.  The 2 most common decision avoidance tactics are:

  • to act impulsively (without seeing the consequences of the decision)
  • to procrastinate (do nothing)

Taking decisions takes willpower.  Willpower is a form of mental energy that can be exhausted. It is like a muscle that gets fatigued with use.

There are a limited number of good decisions that one can take in a day.  You might be a more effective decision maker than those around you, but you will still have a finite limit on the number of good decisions you can take in a day.

Decision Fatigue for Leaders

How do you Ration your decision making?

In the toughest days of my life as a CEO – dealing with the fallout from the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the collapse in bank lending at the end of 2008 and beginning of 2009, I hit my limits of decision fatigue.  In order to get through the weeks and have energy to deal with the things that would allow us as a business to get through these tough times, I rationed my decision making.

The first step was to specify when and where I would take decisions.  (Initially… when: on a Friday; where: only in my office).  Previously my team would approach me at any time in the day, over coffee, over lunch, via email, via sms to request budget for small projects or permission to do some new activity.  I felt responsable as leader for providing an immediate answer.  It was killing me and leaving me with no energy to dedicate to building our future once we survived the immediate crisis.

“That’s great, bring it on Friday…”

I decided that I would take all budget decisions on a Friday between 9-12.  If someone came to me with a request, I learnt to say “that’s great, bring it on Friday and we can take a decision”.  It was hard at first, people were frustrated and angry and didn’t like my lack of willingness to engage at the time and place that they wanted.  Over the following months, the people around me learnt to plan ahead and bring the information necessary to take a good decision on the Friday before they needed the decision.

It gave me peace at lunchtimes, in the break area, even in my office when someone opened the door on a Tuesday.   It was a challenge to remove my sense of responsibility to decide at all moments.  I learnt to be able to have a conversation where I could contribute ideas, but allow it to be clear that no final decision would be taken during this discussion.

When One decision is not really One decision…

My wife realised that one of her struggles with going to the gym is that it was never just one single decision.  Each trip to the gym was a series of decisions: do I change at home or at the gym? do I shower at the gym or at home?  will I eat there or not?  which t-shirt will I bring? which trainers will I use today? which bag will I use?  As the idea of gym came up, her brain knew that it would be exhausted by the series of 20 decisions.  Her solution?  She wrote down all the questions that she used to ask herself and wrote the answers.  She make going to the gym become one simple decision, with a written template of pre-decided answers (shower=yes, trainers=blue, eat=there…)

In Vistage one of the first processes of change that we see in a new CEO member, is a greater awareness of which decisions they should be taking and which decisions they should not be taking.

Are you taking €10,000 decisions, €100 decisions or €1 decisions?  

If you are taking the €1 decisions, your brain’s decision willpower will be depleted before lunchtime.

If you are taking the €1 decisions, your €10,000 decisions will not be receiving the analysis and impact that they deserve.

Jack Welch spoke about the size of decisions that he allowed himself to be taking.  GE is a multi-billion business.  As leader Jack allowed himself to only be taking decisions that could affect at least $50M of the market capitalisation.  

Steve Jobs is famous for having a wardrobe full of identical blue jeans and black t-shirts.  It was not a fashion decision, it was a conservation of decision willpower for the important decisions of Apple.  Barrack Obama speaks about a similar challenge as President of the USA.  He set up a structure around him that ensured that he would take no more than 5 important leadership decisions in a day.

The Structure of Leadership Decision Making

The Vistage Decision Model captures 60 years of experience of working with CEOs as they take operational and strategic decisions to lead their companies and their lives.  There are 3 levels of Decision “skill” – Instinct, Judgement and Perspectives.  There are 5 areas of leadership decision: Talent, Operations, Financials, Customers and Leadership Style.

The Vistage Decision Model

Learn More about the Vistage Decision Model

“Sincerity is not a test of truth; only truth is a test of truth” Jim Rohn

This video is about Trust and 3 things to look for in another person in order to determine if they are worthy of your trust.

The three things to look for:

  • Self Aware: They recognise their own failings
  • Feedback: They tell you things you don’t want to hear
  • Trust: They are quick to support you in your plans & projects

Based on a video from Pep Mari (in spanish): ¿de quién puedes fiarte?

If you liked this post, you will also like The Trust Equation and How to build trust, improve relationships and enhance the quality of your life (video).

Are you a Business Leader?

I’ve been part of Entrepreneurs’ Organisation for the last 10 years and for almost any significant decision I have taken in the last decade, there are 9 people in my forum group who have helped me take a better decision.  I would share with them:

  1. the background to the decision
  2. the why of the decision
  3. what I’m seeking to achieve in my life

There is no major decision I’ve taken in the last 10 years that has not had at least those other 9 wise brains also looking at it.  They are also giving me different perspectives, helping me think through:

  1. Who I am
  2. What what my strengths are
  3. What my company strengths are and
  4. How I can better play into the opportunities that I have

My question to you: “how many brains do you get involved in the big decisions you have to make?”

If it is just one brain (your own) then you are really going to struggle over your life as a business leader.   Join Vistage, join EO, join Young Presidents’ Organization…  Get into a peer group where others can give you multiple different perspectives, different ideas, different experiences that have worked for them in the past.

Get as many brains as you can to help you take important decisions, to help you think through the problems you face, to see how to seize (or say no to) the opportunities coming into your life.

Get access to brains to share your problems. Ask lots of questions and get as much coming back from other’s life experiences as you can.

There is a saying: “if you’re the smartest person in the room, find another room.” 

Are you the smartest in the room?  If you find that you are often the smartest person in the room, you’ve got to expand your network.  Get out of that room and get yourself onto a bigger playing field.

Peer Group Organisations

 

 

Over on the Inc blog there is an article titled 20 Executives Share Lessons They Wish They Could Have Told Their Younger Selves.  I share my top 4 from the full list, in the order that I think they are important.

The most relevant for me was number 9, not for the “decide issues quickly” but for “figure out what typically slows down your decision making and find ways to work around it”.  I took some time to reflect…

What slows down my own (business) decision making?

…this is a brain dump of thoughts that come to me now…

  1. Fear of being wrong
  2. Fear of a better idea coming up tomorrow when we have already committed to this course
  3. Feeling like I have to figure out all the implementation details now rather than allow them to be decided when they become necessary.
  4. Feeling like I need to have a really good explanation of my decision that will impress others and have them see me as a “decisive visionary leader”
  5. Feeling like I have to be 100% sure
  6. Feeling like I should speak to a few more people and get their inputs first
  7. Worrying that I have messed up similar decisions in the past (particularly people decisions)
  8. Not seeing the costs of delaying the decision (both financial, and that it then hangs on my mind while I wait to actually commit to a decision)
  9. Not being systematic about the approach to taking decisions
  10. Not distinguishing between small decisions and big decisions and having a clearly different process for each
  11. Not trusting myself to figure out how to make it work down the road
  12. Not stopping to clarify exactly why the decision is important and how it relates to my vision and purpose

What slows down your decision making?

Here’s the four lessons from the article that I found most valuable and important to me right now.  Numbers are from the Inc Article, Bold text is my own addition…

9. Maximize your time.

“The fastest way to maximize your time is to decide issues quickly. If you need to speed up your decision making, figure out what typically slows down your decision making and find ways to work around it. Pass responsibilities down as far as your people are comfortable. This is another way of speeding up your decision making, by giving others power to decide. You’ll often find that this motivates your employees, building their confidence and enthusiasm, and over time they will gradually accept more responsibility. Clarify your company’s vision, so everyone on the team intuitively understands when projects should be prioritized.”

Jesse Robbins, founder and CEO of Orion Labs, an enterprise voice platform which secured $18.25 million last fall to expand its next-generation of services to the broader speech and voice recognition market, on track to be worth $18.3 billion by 2023

If you want to explore more about taking better decisions quickly, you could continue reading How to Choose in Life Decisions and Agonizing over Decisions.

1. You don’t have to be strong all the time.

“It’s OK to be vulnerable. In high school and college, I spent a lot of time learning to be mentally strong, which can be a good thing, since resilience will wear down mountains given time. However, you don’t have to be strong all the time. Tell people when you don’t know, and when you’re worried. You’d be amazing how much help you’ll get, and how much of a connection that creates.”

Mike Tuchen, CEO of Talend, a provider of cloud and big data integration solutions which saw its stock rise nearly 60 percent over the past year

If you want to explore more about leading as a real human being, you could continue reading Freedom is not Fun and 17 Personal Habits for a Fulfilling Life.

3. You need people who question your beliefs.

“CEOs need people around them who are going to question their fundamental beliefs. These people should test and push, so CEOs are forced to question the decisions that they’re making and plan for the inevitable ups and downs that building a company will bring. If you surround yourself with coaches, prodders, and different thinkers, you will create a feedback loop that will fundamentally change your view of the world and make you a better leader.”

Gordon Ritter, founder and general partner of Emergence Capital, an enterprise cloud venture firm which was recently named Venture Capital Firm of the Year by the National Venture Capital Association

If you want to explore more about getting good feedback for your growth, you could continue reading Accepting Feedback and Managing Oneself.  

You should also check out Entrepreneurs Organisation, Young Presidents Organisation or Vistage as these organisations will help you find a group of peers who can challenge your beliefs and inspire you to be the best that you can.

18. Speak up.

“The one thing I wish my younger self knew was how to find a balance between acting smart and expressing achievements without hesitation. Stereotypes of women’s behavior can dominate perceptions, and as a woman in a male-dominated, STEM-related field, I’ve learned how to take a seat at the table and deliver my message so that it’s heard and respected.”

Chris Mackey, CEO of MackeyRMS, a research management platform for investment professionals that has taken no outside capital/funding, with clients on its platform managing over $1 trillion in assets

If you want to explore more about speaking up, you could continue begin my free 10 week program Speaking as a Leader and Five and a half reasons why you should start a blog today.