The unbearable heaviness of getting things right the first time
As a knowledge worker, you don’t have the luxury of a practice mode.
Athletes and artists get to perfect their craft in the dark but you’re always in live mode.
-No dress rehearsals.
-Just get it right the first time.
If you hear yourself lamenting ‘Ideally I would like to test out various options before taking a big decision, but we all know that practically this is not possible’ or ‘Most decisions in my work have no scope for experimentation. It puts a huge amount of pressure’…
You’re not alone.
But there’s a way to get off this hamster wheel. You can:
-Give yourself options.
-Be less anxious.
Here are three strategies I have learned from Farnam Street and the book Decisive to try out options before picking the best.
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. Invert the problem. Ask yourself: What’s the worst outcome? 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 tell you what’s 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 Plan A, then Plan B or C).
Tip: Most understand the value of pre-testing ideas but miss out on the ‘at once’ bit. They run one test at a time and grow impatient, or worry about cost. Do the opposite.
Attain distance before committing: You may encounter fear and worry most acutely with ‘people’ decisions (fire, hire, move). 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.
If you think this is hard to pull off, you’re probably right. Here’s another tip.
You think it’s hard because you’re comparing the output to a level of perfection you have for most things you do. You need not. You need not be world-class at executing these strategies. You can be mediocre and still enjoy outsized benefits. Why? Because very few try these. Even being a little good is enough to take you through. Then as you practise and get more comfortable, your self-belief takes off.
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