Indecision clouds my vision

I am not naturally decisive. And yet every day when I look at the RMSG value set, “Empowered Decision Making” looks back at me.

The truth is, our educations often tell us to put off decision-making. Reference an object via its most abstract base type, use late binding, value generic over specific, and so on. How many design documents have you read which go out of their way to talk about the myriad of implementation options available, when the author knows perfectly well what the implementation is going to look like? We take Einstein’s quote to heart and mangle it a bit: “Put off every decision as long as possible, but no longer.” Scientists take pride in not making decisions. We’re happy when someone tears apart one of our hypotheses, spotting something we didn’t, ruining our tentative decision and forcing us back into analysis.

Frankly, we like to keep our options open.

And so it is with angst that I approach every situation where I am asked to make a decision.

“Should I work on the memory leak or the core dump?”
“Uhm, yes.”

Shortly after I became a manager, I took part in a day-long training exercise where I acted as a manager for a simulated team, working on simulated products, for a simulated company. I exchanged emails, held phone meetings, soothed angry customers, talked tactics with other managers, and resolved disputes between employees. All of this was tracked by the training company, who some time later held a meeting with me to discuss the results.

What did I score well on? Decision-making. I was decisive, and had good instincts, they said.

Decisive? Sure, it’s easy to be decisive … in a game! I knew in my heart that the angry customer demanding a personal response was just a guy from the training company pushing my buttons. I knew that come 3 PM that day, the exercise was over and I’d never have to live with the results of my hard-hitting decisions. Game over.

But real life isn’t so forgiving.

Or is it?

The truth is, rarely are you faced with a decision which has drastic right and wrong answers. Work on the memory leak first, and the company stock will tank, work on the core dump first and you save a hundred jobs. No. Of course both things need to get fixed. So pick one to start with. Or, if you really can’t decide, make a decision to get more data first (just be wary of the diminishing returns of gathering more data – an easy trap to fall prey to).

I’m not advocating flipping coins, but you got to where you are somehow (hopefully not “I’m the senior director’s nephew and they had to give me the job”). Look at the information you have, consult your instincts, and give an answer. Be ready to defend your answer, even if your natural reaction to being questioned is to think you were wrong. You made the decision for a reason, so explain it.

What’s the worst that happens? You make a bad decision and pay the consequences, learning for next time, honing those instincts. As Scott Young points out, “Often you will face greater damages by making no decision at all then by making a bad one.”

I say this like I practice it daily. The truth is that I struggle with it, all the time. But I’m working on it. Just like plenty of other things.