Over thinking

As with so many aspects of human behaviour, how much thought you put into decisions lies on a spectrum. At the one end there is the rash, impulsive, impetuous and at the other end slow, cautious, thoughtful. The choice of words indicates where I am going with this – the rapid end I am describing in negative ways where as the slow end I am using positive words. But I could have used “prompt, speedy, swift” at the one end and “sluggish, inactive, lethargic” for the other. It all depends on the context.

Sometimes I find myself hung up on some minuscule detail or unable to commit to action. Other times decisive and forthright – OK not as often! Here are some tips to escape the paralysis of being in the sluggish end of life:

Fredkins Paradox.

This is when you find it impossible to choose between possible courses of action. The paradox is that the closer together two options are in terms of cost/benefit, the more difficult it is to chose between them. And yet (here is the paradox), the less it matters. So when endlessly trying to find which of two pretty decent options you should go for, remember the paradox. You can even try tossing a coin. Actually I am not suggesting you allow randomness into your life but that when you toss a coin your response will tell you which one you really think is the best.

Closed Loop

You might find yourself going round in circles with a decision – trying the same logic to solve a conundrum. And if you evaluate something in the same way over again, you are likely to come up with the same answer. So try to find a different way to think about the problem. For example, instead of “how can I get more staff assigned to a project” think of putting it differently. Perhaps “which projects have some spare capacity” or “which parts of this project could be postponed or cancelled” or “how can we work more efficiently”.

Over thinking

You might find your self trying to find more information before committing to something. It is of course perfectly sensible to find out as much information as you can before making a decision. But there comes a point where you have to commit to something regardless of whether you have all the information you need. One good tip comes from my research with the emergency services. They typically assess how much time they have to make a decision and then give it their best shot at the point the decision needs to be made. Also they favour plans that are flexible rather than ideal. this means if the situation – or their understanding of it – changes, there are options to change plans. The same idea seems to be behind the idea of Lean Startup where any ideas or plans are only ever thought of as being working hypotheses which can change at any time when the data tells you.

Let me close with this saying that the US Marines use. There comes a point where you have to take action. It won’t be perfect but you need to do something:

“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”


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