– George Jones
I’ve recently been thinking a lot about decisions: what they are, how we reach them, what makes good ones and how can we (well, more accurately, I) make better decisions? After researching the decision-making process from as many angles as I could think of (well, more accurately, that I made time for), I came away completely fascinated (well, more accurately, embarrassed).
As it turns out, I haven’t been practicing good decision-making for a very, very long time. And the more I looked into it, the more I realized: (a) I could serve clients more effectively if I learned to improve my decision-making; and (b) the marketing public relations profession as a whole could serve clients and organizations more effectively if we learned to improve our decision-making skills. So when the North Carolina chapter of PRSA invited me to speak at its annual PR & Marketing Seminar, I decided (bad pun…) to do a presentation on decision-making.
In lieu of asking you to slog through it (though there is a link below if you’re into that kind of stuff), I’ve gleaned some of the key lessons to help small (and large) business professionals learn and practice better decision-making.
Here are seven tips to help you make better decisions in the next year:
1. Embrace reality. Recognize and resolve to overcome the fears that prevent effective decision-making, such as fear of failure and fear of risk. Accept that some of your decisions will lead to good outcomes for you, and some won’t. And every decision – even delaying a decision – entails risk. Fear of making decisions will virtually guarantee your competitors will eat your lunch and wipe their lips with your balance sheet. The key is to understand that you can never eliminate all risk; you can only minimize the risk. And that’s good enough.
2. Fight decision fatigue. Each of makes thousands of decisions every day. In fact, research shows we make approximately 217 food-related decisions alone on a given day. And as the day wears on, our brains simply get tired of the effort required to make the best decisions. So resolve to handle your toughest decisions early in the day whenever possible. And if you do need to make a decision later in the day, be sure your brain has fuel to power it. Keep protein sources nearby to ensure your blood sugar – and therefore your ability to make smarter decisions – remains high.
3. Stop wasting time and energy on trivial decisions. And speaking of decision fatigue, promise yourself to stop wasting energy on less important decisions. For example, standing for 10 minutes in the cereal aisle debating the merits of Cheerios versus Raisin Bran is a bad investment of energy. Really bad. Just choose one and go with it.
4. Trust, but verify. A few years back, Malcolm Gladwell captured the world’s attention in his bestseller, Blink, when he said decisions made on the spur of the moment – i.e., when you trust your gut – can be just as good (or better) than those that are exhaustively researched. In some cases, Gladwell’s advice is spot on. But as valuable as our instincts may be, biases and blinders very often block our ability – and our gut’s ability – to see things clearly. For example, as valuable as past experience can be, it can also warp how we see a situation today (“That idea didn’t work back then, so it can’t work now”). The only constant in the universe (well, other than death and taxes…) is change. It’s critical for us to see how things are today as objectively and rationally as possible.
5. Skate to where the puck will be. When Wayne Gretzky, perhaps the greatest professional hockey player of all time, was asked about the secret to his success, he replied, “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it is.” Competition today is tougher than ever (talk about a blinding glimpse of the obvious, there…). To succeed, it’s critical we learn to identify and understand trends not only in our sectors but in other industries and society in general, as well. Tap a variety of news and information sources to help you see what’s happening around you and, perhaps more important, what will be happening around you in the coming months and years. To stay one step of your competitors (or better yet, three steps), learn to read the tea leaves.
6. Try on someone else’s shoes. As important as it is to understand what motivates and persuades you to think or do something, it’s equally important to be able to sense what motivates and persuades others. While it’s impossible to know for sure what someone else is thinking or feeling, a key to winning customers or a colleague’s support is the ability to imagine what it would be like if you were someone else. What pressures might they be facing? What might be their needs and priorities, and how well do you understand and satisfy them? Answers these questions, and you’re on the road to success in business (and life, for that matter).
7. Stop. Think. Act. When the waste material hits the revolving blades, it’s easy to ride the tidal wave of emotion (and fear…) and make decisions willy-nilly. Hint: This is not a good idea. No matter how pressing the crisis (excluding life-threatening situations, of course), always take time to look before you leap. Step outside mentally, if not physically, and give yourself space to think about what you are doing. Sometimes 30 seconds spent considering alternatives and focusing on the long-term outcome you want can spell the difference between keeping the ship on course and watching the ship sink before your eyes. Always step back and identify your “magnetic north,” that place in the future you want to be that can serve as a guide for your decision-making.
(If you’re interested in learning more, here’s a link to my presentation, “Reading the Tea Leaves: How to Use the Future to Strengthen Your Decision-Making Skills Today.” And please feel free to let me know if you’d like to see some of the articles and research on which this presentation is based; I’d be happy to share any information I might have found.)