Imagine a 30-something corporate middle manager from New Jersey. Neatly dressed with one hand on her hip, she sounded a little like Fran Drescher from the Nanny. Standing around 5 foot tall, she was tiny and she was forceful. This is my friend and colleague, Tara, whom I worked next to listening to her fast-fired and true management theories:
“You know what, Sarah, I tell them, ‘Do something—even if it’s wrong’ ya know, else you’ll grow moss on your [fill in the blank.]”
Tara had learned early in her career that action was key to success. When she noticed one of her employees flail in indecision, she swooped in and implored him to confidently choose a direction and “Do something—even if it’s wrong.” In her mind, there was always time for the “next, best decision.”
So many years later, I hear Tara’s voice as I work closely with so many CEOs flailing in their growth strategies. Inaction equals death. Indecision becomes procrastination which becomes inaction which ultimately becomes depression—the inability to act— stagnation. There is a rule in the business world which dictates that our businesses are either growing or they are dying. There is no stagnation.
When a decision is delayed, other decisions begin to stack up behind it until there are so many possibilities, so many variables open that gridlock occurs. It sounds like this, “I’m not sure if we should expand operations in Asia, or add channels here—I guess it’s all dependent on which of our human resources renew their contracts—which depends on the compensation package decision—which we won’t know until the budgets are approved—which we can’t do until we decide whether to expand here or in Asia. I guess I’ll hold off for the moment.” Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.
Human beings, by nature, are terrible decision-makers. As soon as we choose one definitive course, we have, in definition, excluded other possibilities. We like to keep our options open. It’s the very reason that salespeople must cajole even the most eager prospects to “sign on the dotted line.”
Rumination vs. Imagination
Instead of “pulling the trigger”, we drag our feet and think it over one more time. We ruminate, which is to say that we turn the information over in our minds one more time. Tara calls it “chewing the cud.” (Ironically, she was from a farm in N.J.) Not very action oriented words for a leader. We find ourselves reviewing the same decision throughout the day or over many days or even weeks and months—in the shower, again while we’re driving and then talking the facets over in conversation with not one, but many cohorts who have no new insight to add.
The toughest rumination happens in a 50/50 decision, where the benefits of choosing A or B are tightly matched. Paradoxically, these decisions warrant the least attention since any outcome is as beneficial as the other.
Add to the dangers of ruminating, that while your headspace is occupied with re-visiting a decision topic, you are left with no mind space for imagination. Different from rumination, imagination traverses the unknown, the vision of possibility and innovation. Imagination is for new thoughts, ideas, kismet and inspiration WHICH CAN’T OCCUR DURING RUMINATION.
Follow these steps to start clearing decisions.
- Identify rumination: How many times have you thought about whether a specific employee is “working out”? What about capital expenditures? That new product you’ve been toying with?
- Strangle that point: Maybe lasso is a better word but, the idea is to violently apprehend the wretch. How? Capture it on paper. Muddy confusion in the head becomes crystal clear on paper. Just write it down and set yourself free.
I must decide whether to hire a new assistant
- Set three minutes on your smartphone timer: for the full three minutes write underneath your heading, all the considerations of the decision. What do you need to know or research to make the decision?
- Full time or part-time?
- What’s the going rate?
- What extra equipment will we need?
- W-2 or contract?
- Virtual or on-site?
Answer this question: Do I have enough information right now to make a decision? Y or N.
- If no, set actions to find the info right now. Who do you know who can give you the info on going rates, equipment expense and pros and cons of various employment arrangements? (hint: Google)
- If yes, then “Do something—even if it’s wrong.”
Let rumination heed way to imagination. Pull the trigger. Sometimes you will choose wrongly but you will have Failed Forward, Failed Well, Failed Fast and most importantly, kept the moss off your…