On October 10th 2019, the entrepreneur James Dyson announced that he was stopping work on building his electric car. Four years, hundreds of engineers and a spend of almost £2 billion had been dedicated to the project that had started as an embryonic idea back in the early nineties. “It was the hardest decision we’ve ever had to make,” says Dyson. “So many designers and engineers have put so much effort into it, and it hadn’t seen the light of day.” Dyson made the call after realising that the numbers just didn’t and couldn’t stack up - he had a legacy business to protect – but this was clearly not a decision he made lightly.
A decision of this magnitude is not one that many of us will ever need to make in our lifetime. But the reality is that we face decisions every single day: they range from the simple ‘what will I eat for lunch today?’ to the complex, gnarly, and potentially life-changing ones that don’t just impact you, but those you love, those you lead, those who need you. It can be frustrating, emotional and sometimes paralysing if you don’t know what to do.
Do you trust your gut? Do you wait until you have considered every single possibility, variable, consequence and data angle? What if all options are good/bad? What if you get it wrong?
We all know people who find decision-making straightforward. They’re the ones who can choose their dinner from a menu in under a minute, the ones who go into a card shop and pick one without pacing up and down for ages. Is it that they lack imagination or courage to try something new? Possibly! But they may be using a technique that allows them to break free from the discomfort of indecision.
They’re not sweating the small stuff.
We have so many decisions to make in a day that we need to ensure we have the mental energy and capacity for the ones that really matter. Have you ever flopped on the sofa at the end of a crazy day and thought – that’s it, pizza for dinner? That’s because you don’t have the mental energy needed to decide on and create something else, you’ve used it all up. Make sure you’re prioritising the decisions that really matter and LET GO of other things. Have the same lunch for five days in a row. Let your partner decide on your weekend plans. Give your brain a rest. If you’re in a leadership role, you need to master the art of delegation and trust people to do their job. If you’re spending most of your day signing off on expenses, or recruitment requests or looking for venues for a team event you’re at risk of not having the mental capacity needed for an important strategy meeting. Choose wisely.
OK so that’s easy enough to remember for smaller decisions, but what about the ones that have a bigger impact? Choosing whether to leave a job, take a job, make an investment or end a project, like James Dyson did. These decisions do require attention and energy, but they can often be protracted, frustrating and potentially emotional experiences. The options are sometimes equally attractive, or equally unattractive, so how do you get to the point of making a call? Here are four suggestions:
1. Use your intuition
Intuition comes from recalling previous similar experiences and applying lessons to the current situation. What happened last time? What worked/didn’t? Listen to your gut.
2. Try an ‘if/then’ approach
If you’re already listing out pros and cons of a decision, take it one step further and identify the potential consequences. For example, if I take this job then I might miss the stuff I did before. If I might miss the stuff I did before, then I need to find out more about the nitty gritty of the new job and/or find ways to incorporate the things I love doing.
3. Set a timer
If you find yourself procrastinating, flip-flopping, or if your business is at an impasse on what direction to take, try limiting the time you have to make the call. Literally. Give your team 15 minutes to decide or stick a post-it note on your fridge saying I will have made the decision by the end of this week/month etc.
4. Ask what would Jesus/Beyoncé/your competitor/your mentor/your best friend do
Objectivity is an incredibly powerful tool in decision-making. That’s because in many cases, there are emotions associated with making a decision, such as frustration, fear, anger and doubt. It is almost impossible to decide, if we are too personally invested in the outcome, so put yourself in someone else’s shoes and ask yourself what they would do. The answer may be enlightening.
In all of this, the key thing to keep in mind is to be true to what matters to you. If you make a call that doesn’t sit with your personal values, it’s likely to be more uncomfortable than it needs to be. But remember, any decision is better than no decision, so go for it: you’ll undoubtedly learn whatever the outcome.
What decision are you going to make right now?