How do you make decisions?

In business everyone has an opinion

I spent more than ten years starting and building software companies. It was such a different time that it barely holds any resemblance to today's environment of startups. But the one thing that hasn't changed, over the last 24 years, is that there's never a lack of opinions. Everyone has one.

When it comes to making decisions, you likely look for input. You want to know how other people think about your situation. But what you'll often get – even from me – is an opinion. And my opinion is framed by my experience.

When making decisions, your own opinion is important

You've likely heard that you need to be true to yourself. Or you've been told that you need to trust your gut. (Note: When I started this blog 10 years ago instead of calling it by my name, I was going to call it Untrained Gut.) 

Your gut is only worth listening to if you have the appropriate experience. But if you don't, all you have is an untrained gut, and that's no more trustworthy than the opinion your neighbor has about your business.

[tweet “Listening to your gut is only worthwhile if it's trained.”]

All that said, your own opinion is important. Critically important. And since you're the one making decisions, you need to be able to rely on your own opinion of what's the next best move.

But sometimes you're not helping yourself

When I was in college I was introduced to a concept that both impressed and destroyed me. It was the notion of “blind spots.”

When you drive a car and look at the road using sideview mirrors, there are spots where other cars can linger. That's why you have to do that extra look-over-the-shoulder move. Because if not, you'd be making a decision to change lanes without realizing that there was something there that you didn't realize.

In people, the idea of a blind spot works similarly. It makes you cautious. And that can help (until you get so insecure that it hurts you).

[tweet “The most important thing to understand, when making decisions, is yourself.”]

The benefit of this concept is that you can quickly realize that you're not helping yourself when you make decisions from just your gut. Because your gut is biased to how you think about (and see) things.

  • What if you're contrarian?
  • What if you are overly pessimistic?
  • What if you regularly share too much?
  • What if you make decisions too quickly?

Any of these dynamics isn't fatal if you're aware of it and put process (or people) in place to help you navigate the dynamic when making decisions. But if you ignore things and just run straight ahead, you might end up making an obvious mistake that was completely avoidable.

The importance of knowing yourself

Here's a simple way to think about things.

If you know you're good dribbling the basketball with your right hand, you learn to dribble with the left, or you start running up and down only one side of the court, or you pass the ball quickly – you create ways to mitigate the challenges of your defaults.

That's the importance of knowing yourself.

It's the ability to know what you're strong at. But also places where you need to bolster up other skills or support with the people around you.

I have a friend who is super contrarian.

They will go left simply because I might mention they should go right. And when they're running their company, it can cause them to do things that have downstream consequences. We've talked about it and they know it. What they've done is realize that dynamic and create their own support at work to double-check their big decisions to make sure it's not just reactionary.

Make decisions better – by knowing your defaults

Defaults are what happens when you're on autopilot. Left without change or external influence we all have defaults and it's how we see or think about the world we live in. It guides, without any extra effort, how we make decisions.

Remember when I asked you if your emotions were serving you? Well the same goes for your defaults. And the best way to know what they are is to take a few surveys.

Here are a few that you might like or that might help you:

All of these tools help me know the decision maker better, so that when I pull together data and evaluate my options, I'm aware of how I might be influencing my own decision.