By Eicorn’s Venture Developer and Consultant Esin Saribatir
“As an intelligence analyst, I would frequently and persistently hear the mantra ’80 per cent on time, instead of 100 per cent too late’. The reason? Intelligence is useless unless it is actionable, and for it to be actionable, it needs to be timely. And timeliness often competes with certainty.”
By design, the world of intelligence is a world of grey, and becoming comfortable with ‘getting it done’, as opposed to ‘getting it perfect’, was an important lesson. Despite the consequences of potentially getting it wrong, decision paralysis was not an option. Fortunately for me, intelligence operates in the world of probabilities, where certainty is recognised as an unachievable ideal and an 80% solution is readily acceptable.
Within business operations, decision paralysis and the desire to get it 100% right can be overwhelming, if not debilitating – for employees, as well as business units and managers. However, timeliness is just as important within the business world as it is within military planning, as detailed by the founder of Idealab, Bill Gross, in his TED talk The Single Biggest Reason Why Start-Ups Succeed. Thankfully, with the right approach to decision-making, there are ways to manage and overcome this problem without having to take on unnecessary levels of risk.
Know your objectives
Identifying early on exactly how a given decision relates to a larger project or broader business objectives can make the decision-making process much simpler. As you gather information and the number of variables increases, having clearly defined objectives at the forefront will help keep immediate decisions in line with long-term objectives.
Differentiate between core decisions and those of less significance
How often have you sought to buy a product, only to discover it is bundled with a whole range of products and services you didn’t know you needed? Before long, you find yourself having forgotten about the initial product, and instead stressing over auxiliary options that ultimately are of little significance. Take, for example, the purchase of a car. What features provide true value for you? For the average user, the key function of a car is to get you from A to B, with consideration given to size for cargo and transportation needs, and value for money. After heading into a dealer, how many of you have then experienced that overwhelming feeling as the salesperson rattles of additional extras like rims, headlight and bonnet protectors, rust proofing and fabric protection, floor mats and roof racks? At this point, differentiating between your core decisions that relate to your objective versus the ‘nice-to-haves’ that are not – or should not be – fundamentally significant can help save you a lot of headache and confusion. The relief that comes from needing to compare only a few, key features, as opposed to comparing hundreds, if not thousands, of configurations is well-documented. Maybe Tesla is onto something by limiting additional extras on its Model 3?
Clarify the acceptable minimum
Before potentially losing yourself in the sea of information, variables and considerations, it’s worth taking a moment to clarify what your bottom line is. What is the bare minimum you want or need to achieve, for this decision to be considered a success? What are you willing to compromise on, and what is a deal breaker? Answer these questions, and you will likely reduce the confusion, stress, and anxiety, and the potential for ineffective choices, in your decision-making processes.
Be prepared to let go of sunken costs
We are fascinating creatures, yet to be fully unravelled or understood through the sciences. The psychology of decision-making makes for a particularly interesting domain, and illustrates just how complicated we are. Our inability to let go of sunken costs – costs that have already occurred and cannot be recovered – is just one example of how our cognitive functions can impact our ability to make optimal decisions. While this attachment does not always lead to bad decisions, learning and being prepared to let go of sunken costs can help with utilising more effective and rational processes.
Arm yourself with information
Once you have confirmed your key objectives and desirables, now is the time to arm yourself with the information you need to help you make your decision. Undoubtedly, this process – of gathering, analysing and assessing information and relating to your decision – is likely to yield new variables that have a direct impact. However, your core objectives and acceptable bare minimums have the means to offer useful guidance during your deliberations, and potentially serve to prevent you from becoming overwhelmed with insignificant information. Remember, choices and options come at a cost – one that we often underestimate. As for analysing and assessing that information – that’s worth a post all to itself.
Get comfortable with being uncomfortable – perfect isn’t the answer
Perhaps most importantly, it is worth getting comfortable with the imperfect nature of decision-making. Regardless of your operating environment, we live and work in a world of uncertainty. And while most of us are keen to do our due diligence and research and analyse until we are sure of our decision, capitalising on opportunities often means acting with incomplete information. In this environment, 80% on time, instead of 100% too late, becomes a useful mantra to bear in mind.
So, rather than growing to resent the decision-making process, or getting stuck in decision paralysis, draw upon the knowledge and evidence of the past, arm yourself with the understanding of why you are doing what you are doing, and make the best possible decisions you can – on time, instead of too late.