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The Cure to Decision-Making Paralysis.

Feb 20, 2024

While conversing with our clients, friends, and various individuals at conferences, businesses, and occasionally with someone seated next to us on a flight, a curious trend emerged: in today’s whirlwind of rapid changes and overwhelming choices, it seems we’ve collectively encountered decision-making paralysis.

The sheer volume of options, combined with the unpredictable outcomes of our choices, has left many feeling lost in a sea of uncertainty. It’s no longer just about choosing between A or B; it’s about grappling with the consequences in a world that seems to be shifting beneath our feet. This indecision isn’t a sign of weakness; instead, it’s a natural response to the complex, uncertain, and interconnected environment we navigate daily.

However, here’s the twist: avoiding decisions doesn’t shield us from change’s impact; it simply hands control over to circumstance. The key to reclaiming our power lies not in seeking certainty but in becoming comfortable with uncertainty. We must embrace the art of making informed decisions without the guarantee of perfect outcomes. This entails gathering what we know, recognizing what we don’t (and distinguishing between the “knowable and unknowable unknowns”), and taking a step forward, armed with the courage to adjust as we progress.

To overcome this decision-making dilemma, it takes more than just well-intentioned encouragement from upper management. It requires us to approach business in a fundamentally different manner. Instead of primarily focusing on getting the strategy right and then executing linearly against the plan (remember the traditional “five-year plan”?), leaders should establish the direction by identifying and communicating the organization’s North Star. They ought to empower their teams to advance step by step in the defined direction, continually gathering insights and data that inform the plan for the subsequent steps. Inch by inch, allowing for ongoing course correction – a concept our friend Corey Ford refers to as the “drunken walk of the entrepreneur.”

Next time you find yourself stymied by indecision, remember your North Star and inch forward. As Northwestern University professor Dashun Wang points out in his seminal paper “Quantifying the dynamics of failure across science, startups and security,” your ability to “fail fast” (and, of course, learn along the way as well as incorporate those learnings into the next iteration) is not just prescriptive but descriptive of future success. @Pascal