The Bulletin

Why your first decision may not be the right one

Posting in Technology

Everybody admires a "decisive" leader who can make his or her choice and stick to it, never wavering. The hallmark of success, right?  Wrong, say two entrepreneurial experts.

Most decisions are never final. Often, in fact, startups and new business ventures end up going off in different directions -- or even ending up in entirely different lines of business -- than what they conceived when first launching.  And that's okay.

That's the gist of a recent interview, conducted by "lean startup" guru Eric Ries with Dan Heath, co-author (along with his brother, Chip) of Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work, about what it takes to make good decisions. The Heath brothers also wrote the New York Times bestsellers Switch and Made to Stick.

In his book, Heath recommends applying the "WRAP" principle" to decision-making:

  • Widen your options
  • Reality-test your assumptions
  • Attain distance before deciding
  • Prepare to be wrong.

Most decisions are temporary, Heath says. (Possible exception -- decision to marry.) The best course for any business is not to try to arrive at one single, unmovable decision, but to move down a path of multiple options -- or "multitracking," as they call it.  "If you consider multiple options at once, it can yield better decisions," says Heath. "The reason is that you’re learning about multiple alternatives, along with their strengths and weaknesses, simultaneously. And not only that, but some researchers have found that it even speeds up your decision-making."

It's also important to recognize that most decisions are nothing more than hypotheses, Heath adds. "It’s: 'I think this going to be right job for me, the right place to live.' We’ve got to stop treating our decisions as permanent and instead think of them as provisional."

If multitracking decisions seems like more work, it's because it is. As Heath points out in the interview, "It’s more work, and it’s slower." But research out of Stanford found that Silicon Valley firms that considered more options were actually faster to market, he points out.There are three reasons:

"The first is: When you consider multiple things simultaneously, you’re actually learning a lot about the shape of the problem—the important factors involved—and that knowledge makes you more confident and quicker to decide.

"The second piece is: When you consider multiple options, it depoliticizes the choice. When you have one option on the table, and the choice is 'do we do this or not,' you get two camps fighting each other. You spend a lot of time bickering and arguing. Versus when you have multiple options, you can approach them more objectively and consider their strengths and weaknesses a bit more honestly.

"The third piece is when you consider multiple options, you have a built-in fallback. So, if you go with Option A and for some reason it fizzles out, you’ve already got Option B teed up."

— By on April 6, 2013, 2:19 AM PST

Joe McKendrick

Contributing Editor

Joe McKendrick is an independent analyst who tracks the impact of information technology on management and markets. He is a co-author of the SOA Manifesto and has written for Forbes, ZDNet and Database Trends & Applications. He holds a degree from Temple University. He is based in Pennsylvania. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure