I have a lasting interest in how people make good decisions, especially when many people are involved, and many people are affected by the decisions.
Currently reading the book “Crucial Conversations“. Towards the end of the book, there is a section on moving from a dialogue towards concrete actions. The authors say that there are 4 methods of decision making.
The 4 methods of decision making:
Command – One person decides. It might be the main authority figure, or that individual might delegate the power to decide to another specific individual.
Consult – A person given the power to make a decision first consults widely before making a decision. Note: you can listen to someone’s opinion without taking on an obligation to use that opinion in your decision.
Vote – The group votes.
Consensus – we negotiate a position that everyone can agree to. This can take a long time, and can lead to many compromises on the decision being agreed.
When choosing which way to decide there are four questions to ask:
Who cares? – Don’t involve people who don’t care
Who knows? – Don’t involve people who cannot add value.
Who must agree? – Who could block the implementation later on if not part of the decision process today?
How many people must be involved? – The fewer the better.
If everybody is responsible, nobody is responsible. Great teams assign clear individual responsibilities and hold people to their commitments.
A leader should be interested in developing 2 competencies in the people within their organisation:
Good Decision Making (to take good choices about how to use the resources of the organisation to achieve strategic plans)
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…
…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?
…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?
…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?
…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?
…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?
…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 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.
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 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…
Fear of being wrong
Fear of a better idea coming up tomorrow when we have already committed to this course
Feeling like I have to figure out all the implementation details now rather than allow them to be decided when they become necessary.
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”
Feeling like I have to be 100% sure
Feeling like I should speak to a few more people and get their inputs first
Worrying that I have messed up similar decisions in the past (particularly people decisions)
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)
Not being systematic about the approach to taking decisions
Not distinguishing between small decisions and big decisions and having a clearly different process for each
Not trusting myself to figure out how to make it work down the road
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
“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
“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
“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
Wisdom is to accept that we do what we do and that is enough. Even if I don’t do my best, it is the best that I could deliver at that time and that moment. We can learn from poor decisions, but we get nothing from the emotion of regretting past decisions and we get nothing from the emotion of anxiety over current decisions.
My father takes decisions very quickly. He has the attitude that he will change direction tomorrow if he is wrong, but he will not wait to take a decision.
Maybe I only see the outside of my father – maybe inside he does face anxiety and frustration at himself for not doing better to get prepared for something. He does a good job of hiding it.
I feel like I spent far too long in agonising worry over decisions. I should take a direction more quickly, but also be open to reversing the decision tomorrow. (As some that know me well will attest: I am poor at accepting that I am wrong).
To be wrong is to have learnt something new. If I take a decision now, and tomorrow I realise it was wrong for me – this new wisdom could only come because I had taken the decision.
What about you?
Are you good at taking decisions? Are you good at dealing with anxiety? I’d love to hear how you approach decisions and deal with yourself.
I was watching a few Charlie Munger speeches recently – Warren Buffett’s partner in leading Berkshire Hathaway.
Charlie talks a lot about “Inverse Thinking”…
The Inverse Thinking Process
What is Inverse Thinking? Charlie says it is helpful to turn a question on its head. If you want to know what would improve the situation of India, ask what would make India worse? You can apply this to most situations: If you want to know what would improve your life, ask what would make your life worse? If you want to know what would improve schools, ask what would make schools worse?
Charlie does provide his answer to how to make life worse.
Charlie’s Recipe for a Miserable Life
His answer: The perfect path to a miserable failure of a life is combining:
Another of Charlie’s particular questions he asks himself is how to keep from fanatical ideology? He sees that human beings are so open to self-deception that we must (yes even you) all be on the lookout for our own beliefs that have become fanatical.
Charlie’s Recipe to Keep From Fanaticism
Can you state the arguments against your position as well as your opposition? If you can state the arguments against your position as effectively as the opposing camp, then you can allow yourself to feel that you are not being fanatical.
Charlie on the Danger of Perverse Incentives
Be careful about being in situations that motivate unhappy behaviour. Are the incentives in the systems in which you operate motivating behaviours that make you a better person, or a worse person. Be careful if you think your answer is “neutral”…
Charlie on the Danger of Perverse People
Don’t work for those who you do not admire.
It will damage you.
Charlie Munger speaking at USC Graduation
There is one random quote that stuck with me from Charlie:
“Hope is not necessary to persevere” Frederick the Great
There… those are my thoughts for this Sunday afternoon 😉 It is now time to head to the Camp Nou for FC Barcelona’s game against Espanyol… key for the league, and the Barcelona derby!