Decisions, Decisions… Are You Planning or Stalling?

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Al Pittampalli of The Modern Meeting Standard.

What do you do when faced with an important decision?

Whether it’s deciding to launch a new product, whether or not to apply to graduate school, or to design your blog using Tumblr or WordPress, what’s your approach?

Do you do plenty of research and due diligence?  Of course, that’s what rational, responsible, intelligent people do to avoid of the potential cost of making the wrong decision, right?

But how often do we consider the cost of the decision making process itself?

How much time, energy, money, resources are you spending trying to make the right decision? What kind of momentum are you sacrificing, enthusiasm are you losing, opportunities are you missing, other people’s time are you wasting?

It’s rare to find people who admit they’re afraid of making decisions, but we all are. Human beings crave certainty, so anything perceived as uncertain is a threat.  And making a decision, by definition, is an exercise in uncertainty.

More often than we’d like to admit, the amount of time we waste being paralyzed over the decision far surpasses the potential costs of making the wrong one. (Especially considering that no matter how much we plan, a bad outcome is always possible).

Sure, planning is often important for intelligent decisions, but what’s driving your planning? Strategy or emotion? Because emotion can lead you on a never ending quest of intelligence gathering, research, and advice seeking.  Emotion is not an accurate indicator of your readiness to make your decision. After all, if we were to wait for our nerves to calm down before jumping out of a plane, skydiving wouldn’t exist.

This kind of emotionally driven decision making shows up a lot in organizations. But when people inside organizations fear a decision, they have another stalling tactic available to them: Meetings.

Gathering a group of people in a room to discuss delays the decision, but in a way that appears productive. If you look at the countless wasteful, purposeless, boring meetings inside any organization, you’ll find that most of them can be traced back to a decision that is being avoided — under the guise of due diligence.

So what’s the solution? Strategy. When an important decision comes up, before you do anything else (start researching, call a friend, hold a meeting) decide how to decide.  Ask yourself some questions:

  • Can I make this decision myself?
  • Should I make this decision right now?
  • If others are necessary, how, and when should I involve them?
  • Should this decision be made intuitively or analytically?
  • Does the opinion of someone else matter or are facts sufficient?
  • How much time should this decision take?

The best part of deciding how to decide is it forces you to distance yourself from your decision (even if it’s just for a second). In doing so, you might just be able to alleviate your anxiety long enough to be strategic.

Fear is powerful, but it’s no match for great strategy. How do you replace the fear factory with the strategy engine?

Al Pittampalli is the author of Read This Before Our Next Meeting. He’s on a mission to change the way organizations hold meetings, make decisions, and coordinate action. Al can be found online at The Modern Meeting Standard.

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  1. says

    Like lots of people, I spend so much time researching and planning and worrying with business decisions, so I really appreciate this strategy in this post, Al. The six questions you ask are really powerful.

    For me, the third question is really key. When to involve others? I work alone a lot, both as a fiction writer and a blogger, so sometimes my wallowing in indecision is especially bad. By inviting in other people to have a look at my work, the decision is usually clear and easy. But that’s a different kind of meeting–a check-and-balance to MAKE a decision, rather than the stalling tactic that meetings usually are.

    Thanks for the post, Al–and thanks, Charlie, for sharing this with us!

  2. says

    I like that you encourage people to make decisions based on a strategy rather than overplanning – but that you didn’t just suggest to jump in and wing it. There *are* times where things need to be thought through. You give a great set of questions to help speed that process along.

  3. says

    So true! Analysis paralysis is a big cost…Often caused by fear.

    And what a better way to procrastinate without guilt than calling it…research/due diligence/preparation, etc?

  4. says

    We’re talking about the consequences of perpetual indecision over at our place, as well. It’s maddening to be in a state of indecision, but more maddening to work with individuals who seemingly can’t decide. Sometimes all this stalling arises out of the simple inability to say no.

  5. says

    Great post! I see so many people that fail to make a decision or take action. It’s paralysis of analysis. I am a firm believer in making a decision then learning from whatever the result is, good or bad. Once you gain enough experience and wisdom your intuition will consistently give you the results you desire. This is where the saying “just go with your gut” comes from. It’s actually a decision that your sub-conscious has developed based on your life experiences and knowledge. That’s why you must always be growing and reading!

    I am new to this blog, very good content! Thank you.

  6. says

    Most people would call me a decisive individual and strangely for most of the “big” life decisions I’ve been able to choose and decide without weeks or even days of analysis.
    Now, facing what to do next career-wise, I am paralysed in the analysis and have been going on a year now. It’s crazy!
    After ending employment at the beginning of July, I’ve decided to NOT decide for the next 6 months. Instead, I am trying to let ideas and thoughts float in, I’ll chew on them briefly and then let them go again. I don’t know if it will work, but I think I need the space for my intuition to appear and give me some insight.

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