Why It’s Tough To Decide

There is no progress without decisions. More strongly, decisions are unsung heroes of progress.

Decisions are powerful – things are different after a decision. (You are different after a decision.) Before a decision it’s one way, and after, another. And once a decision is made, the follow-on actions are clear, straightforward, transactional. In fact, the follow-on plan is justification for the decision. Decide this, do that. Decide the other, do something else. But decision is the hard part.

Progress is born from decisions and follow-on actions, but actions get attention and Gantt charts and decisions get short-suited. There is no project plan for deciding, no standard work. And it’s often unclear when a decision is made. Rarely is a decision documented. And once the organization recognizes a decision has evolved to stand on its own, the rationale and ramifications are unclear. And it’s unclear who birthed the decision. (The genetics of the parents define the status of the decision.)

There are two types of decisions: made decisions and unmade decisions. Made decisions are the ones we know, but it’s the slippery unmade decisions that are the troublemakers, the devious gremlins. Unmade decisions have a life force – they want to live, to remain undecided. (When unmade decisions are decided, they die.) That’s why it’s so hard to decide.

Over the millennia unmade decisions have developed natural defenses. Their best trick is camouflage. They know if they’re recognized, there’s a good chance they’ll be decided, and it’s over.  When they go to the meetings they hide in plain sight. They blend in with the wood grain of conference table or the texture of the ceiling tiles. They’re there, but hiding.

Unmade decisions know when they’re about to be decided – much like migratory birds sense gravitational fields. When they’re almost snared, they create complexity and divide into many, small, unmade decisions (think cellular division) and scatter. The increased complexity requires more decisions and enables at least some of themselves to live to fight another day.

But there’s hope. Unmade decisions get their life force from us – we decide how long they live; we choose not to see them; we choose to create complexity.

We must learn to spot unmade decisions, to call them out, and help our teams decide. At your next meeting, ask yourself if there’s an unmade decision hiding in plain sight. If there is, call it out, and decide if it should be decided.

3 Responses to “Why It’s Tough To Decide”

  • Harriet:

    I have decided (long ago) that I love your mind. This was comically eloquent. Truth not just for the boardroom. xxoo

  • Anonymous:

    The problem with decisions is that information is almost always not broad enough and thus a lot of “feeling” and subjective estimation play a role. The consequence of a decision is never pre-visible. This is the reason why a decision should not be irrevocable but connected with a control loop “decide-control-correct”. Such a loop should NOT be too late active but as soon as the decision was implemented. Unfortunately pride and other human factors make the introduction of such loops very very seldom and thus many “disaster” are noticed. A bit of modesty from decisioners could lead to lot of success.

  • Great article! I agree that most decisions are not documented, and thus often revisited especially when new stakeholders or team members join. It is difficult to pull the threads and remember how that decision from months ago was made. I have found that a little discipline goes a long way in documenting most decisions. A one page summary or Mind Map is very helpful in documenting the problem, the alternatives, the criteria used and the decision, along with who was part of it and what the rationale was (at the time). The project manager can really help the team by judicious use of a smart decision-making process.

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Mike Shipulski Mike Shipulski
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