Keeping Options Open When Waiting to Decide
We would all love to be sure of ourselves and not have to care about what the rest of the world thinks. But if we’re doing the same things as the crowd, we’ll get the same results as everyone else. That is why until you have what you need to make a big decision, you would want to position yourself for a variety of futures instead of simply going with consensus.
Here are three techniques to keep options open while you make the best choice.
✔𝐀𝐯𝐨𝐢𝐝 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐰𝐨𝐫𝐬𝐭 𝐨𝐮𝐭𝐜𝐨𝐦𝐞 𝐟𝐢𝐫𝐬𝐭: During a particularly busy time in my life, I was desperate for a break. I squeezed into one rainy weekend a road trip with a 12-hour drive each way. Three hours in, I had totaled my new car and was stranded on the highway. 𝘛𝘰 𝘨𝘦𝘵 𝘵𝘰 𝘴𝘮𝘢𝘳𝘵, 𝘺𝘰𝘶’𝘷𝘦 𝘵𝘰 𝘤𝘳𝘰𝘴𝘴 𝘴𝘵𝘶𝘱𝘪𝘥 𝘧𝘪𝘳𝘴𝘵. Ask yourself: What’s the worst outcome here? Then take steps to avoid it.
✔𝐅𝐢𝐫𝐬𝐭 𝐛𝐮𝐥𝐥𝐞𝐭𝐬, 𝐭𝐡𝐞𝐧 𝐜𝐚𝐧𝐧𝐨𝐧𝐛𝐚𝐥𝐥𝐬: This is a strategy made famous by Jim Collins. He advises running low-cost low-risk experiments that inform you about the best use for your limited resources (men, money, market). Chip and Dan Heath call it 𝐦𝐮𝐥𝐭𝐢𝐭𝐫𝐚𝐜𝐤𝐢𝐧𝐠–considering multiple options at once. Multitracking has built-in fallback options (𝘪𝘧 𝘯𝘰𝘵 𝘵𝘩𝘪𝘴, 𝘵𝘩𝘦𝘯 𝘵𝘩𝘢𝘵).
Most decision-makers are aware of this principle. Where they miss out is the ‘at once’ bit. They run one test at a time and grow impatient, or they worry about cost. Sometimes, though, it may just be hard to generate good options to test–that’s when you need to find someone who has solved your problem.
✔𝐀𝐭𝐭𝐚𝐢𝐧 𝐝𝐢𝐬𝐭𝐚𝐧𝐜𝐞 𝐛𝐞𝐟𝐨𝐫𝐞 𝐜𝐨𝐦𝐦𝐢𝐭𝐭𝐢𝐧𝐠: Fear and worry often drive urgency. You may encounter it acutely with ‘people’ decisions. That’s when it helps to sleep over your decision, even for just a day. 𝘉𝘦𝘤𝘢𝘶𝘴𝘦 𝘰𝘯𝘤𝘦 𝘺𝘰𝘶’𝘷𝘦 𝘥𝘦𝘤𝘪𝘥𝘦𝘥, 𝘺𝘰𝘶 𝘴𝘵𝘢𝘳𝘵 𝘴𝘦𝘦𝘪𝘯𝘨 𝘵𝘩𝘪𝘯𝘨𝘴 𝘵𝘩𝘳𝘰𝘶𝘨𝘩 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘧𝘪𝘭𝘵𝘦𝘳 𝘰𝘧 𝘺𝘰𝘶𝘳 𝘥𝘦𝘤𝘪𝘴𝘪𝘰𝘯. Waiting before announcing allows you time to see the world through that filter.
There’s a time during the process of making a consequential-irreversible decision that tests your resolve. If you feel a certain fear waiting at the crossroads when others have chosen their paths, remember that there’s a certain solace in failing if others are failing too. In the end, you may not be all that upset about missing the mark if most others around you have missed too. A low base rate is kind to the ego. Think of that tough physics paper that baffled everyone in class.
But that’s not all you want. You want to beat the odds. On important things, you want to be right when the world is wrong. For that you’ve to be willing to be short-term wrong and long-term right.