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Weekly 3: Make better decisions


Idea Journal Weekly 3

May 20 · Issue #35 · View online

We combine 3 ideas to help you think differently and be more creative.

Summary: Be a more effective – and contrarian – leader. Turn the binary into multiple choice. Shrink your decisions. (~6 min read)

#1. Sometimes being an effective leader means not making decisions.
Many of us have been brought up to believe that we should never put off to tomorrow a decision that we can make today.
But author and professor Steven Sample writes in his book The Contrarian’s Guide to Leadership that “This bit of conventional wisdom may be good counsel for managers and bureaucrats, but it’s terrible advice for leaders.”
Instead, he suggests that to be a more effective leader you should follow the below 2 rules:
1. Never make a decision yourself that you can reasonably delegate to a lieutenant.
Sample offers a few reasons why:
  • Time constraints: You only have so much time to make decisions, so you should ensure that you’re focused on the most important ones.
  • Teaching your lieutenants: Delegating decisions to your lieutenants gives them opportunities to learn and grow.
  • A more aligned organization: By delegating, you’re forced to build coherence by putting together a team that has shared values and goals.
Which decisions should you make as a contrarian leader?
Sample argues that you should reserve for yourself only those decisions that relate to the following issues:
  • Hiring, molding, motivating, assessing, and firing of your main lieutenants.
  • Decisions that have the greatest potential impact on your organization or movement (e.g., Should we merge with another company? Should we spend half of our net worth developing this new product?).
2. Never make a decision today that can reasonably be put off to tomorrow.
As Sample points out, the timing of a decision could be just as important as the decision itself.
When you’re faced with an important decision, ask yourself: How long do I have?
In some cases, it’s helpful to use “artful procrastination”: postponing a decision can allow for potentially favorable, but unexpected, opportunities to open up.
But there can be a downside to putting off such decisions: “Sometimes no decision by Tuesday is in fact a decision by default.”
Note: We wrote about another one of Steven Sample’s ideas, the concept of “thinking gray,” in a previous issue.
#2. “When given a choice -- take both!”
As author and entrepreneur Peter Diamandis writes in his book Bold, we’re taught that when we’re given a choice we have to choose only one option.
But why should you have to choose?
In Diamandis’ own experience, throughout graduate school people told him he would either have to go to school or start a company.
Instead, he did both: he started 3 companies while in school, and 8 more before he was 40 years old.
Diamandis gives the below examples of other entrepreneurs who also rejected such binary choices:
  • Steve Jobs ran both Apple and Pixar.
  • Elon Musk leads 3 multibillion-dollar companies: SolarCity, SpaceX, and Tesla Motors.
  • In addition to Virgin Management, Richard Branson has started over 500 companies, including 8 billion-dollar companies in 8 different industries.
For Diamandis, if managed well, this multiple-choice approach can create extraordinary momentum: “Ideas cross-pollinate. Networks expand. The whole becomes much bigger than the sum of its parts.”
#3. Smaller decisions mean smaller mistakes, and also more flexibility.
Authors and entrepreneurs Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson write in their book Rework that big decisions are both hard to make and hard to change. 
Once you’ve made a big decision, and your ego and pride are involved, you have a tendency to believe you made the right decision – even if you didn’t.
Instead, they recommend making tiny decisions: choices “small enough that they’re effectively temporary.”
With tiny decisions, there’s a smaller penalty if you mess up: it’s cheaper, in time and other resources, to fix a small mistake than a big one.
But this doesn’t mean you can’t have big dreams and big ideas – it just means that the way to achieve them is by taking many small steps.
Fried and Heinemeier Hansson cite polar explorer Ben Saunders’ reflections on his solo North Pole expedition, the equivalent of 31 back-to-back marathons spanning 72 days.
Because the thought of making any huge decisions during the journey was so overwhelming, Saunders used a more manageable approach: “getting to that bit of ice a few yards in front of me.”
Note: We wrote about a related topic, Peter Sims’ idea of “little bets,” in a previous issue.
Quote of the Week
“In any situation in life, you only have three options. You always have three options. You can change it, you can accept it, or you can leave it. What is not a good option is to sit around wishing you would change it but not changing it, wishing you would leave it but not leaving it, and not accepting it. It’s that struggle, that aversion, that is responsible for most of our misery.”
- Entrepreneur Naval Ravikant in an interview with Tim Ferriss, captured in the book Tools of Titans 
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