Our lives are continually bombarded by decisions and choices we feel we have to make. There is a perceived desire to have more choice – whether it is soap, toothpaste, health care or schools. More choice is seen as better. Or at least that’s what we’re told. I remember a few years ago having an extension built to our house. By far the most stressful aspect seemed to be the little things: which door handles? What type/colour/quality of carpet? What type of paint? Bathrooms are the worst; so many choices one can become paralysed. Too much choice can be a stressful hindrance to progress – and that can apply equally in business too. What we need is a way to navigate easier – to de-clutter the process.
A good start towards greater clarity can be made by drawing a distinction between a Decision and a Choice. When a Decision is made, it’s usually following a period of logical deduction and consideration of the options and benefits. It’s what humankind has evolved to do, and we actively engage our neocortex – the region of our brain responsible for reasoning. A Decision is strongly influenced by our values, culture and beliefs – and the constraints within which we operate – but it is founded on logical argument. Indeed, Decisions can be argued for and against, bringing with them a sense of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. This can bring a major burden with Decisions and many of us are employed in jobs where we are expected to make them on a daily basis on behalf of the team or organisation. Choices, on the other hand, are based more on gut reaction and what we feel. I chose to buy a car finished in Pearl Grey, while my friend bought exactly the same model but in Silver. There was no right or wrong to this – we each just preferred one colour over the other. There is no logic to it either – it just ‘feels’ right. The limbic part of the brain, responsible for feelings and emotion rather than logic, has dominance when making Choices.
This simple distinction can relieve a lot of stress in our lives. There will always be Decisions we each need to take, based on reasoning. However, there will be a vast number of other occasions where what we face is a genuine Choice – do we have brass door-handles or silver? We increase complexity massively when we take what could stand as a Choice and unnecessarily add analysis and logic to turn it into a Decision with all the baggage that brings. When we are able to make a Choice with no implication of right or wrong, it frees-up our capacity for dealing with the real Decisions.
While there is no right or wrong associated with a Choice, they do have consequences that sometimes need to be cleared up. I remember once inadvertently becoming double-booked for an appointment one afternoon. In each case the person I was meeting deserved to have our appointment honoured – and I had to make a Choice who to let down. There was no right or wrong to this – so I chose. It meant that I had to clear things up with the person I was letting down. Choices almost always have consequences that need attending to.
Decisions, by their very nature, need to be taken. One of the most damaging things in any context is when a Decision is avoided since it leaves others, who might be depending on the outcome, left in limbo. How often have you been waiting on a Decision which is repeatedly deferred while the Decision-Maker demands more information before committing – another spreadsheet, more research, another report? If you’re a Decision-Maker, you are paid to make decisions, so get on and make them – you will never have 100% knowledge to inform you and the most corrosive thing for your organisation is to make no decision at all.
Timeliness of Decisions is also critical: if you want your desired outcome, think of those who need to act on the Decisions you take and give them sufficient time to do so. When in doubt, Decisions are much easier (and quicker) to take when they exist within a context of a clear higher-purpose – the organisation’s Why – and are based on values, not just priorities. If you want to find making Decisions easier and quicker, then seek guidance from your company’s Why – and ultimately, your own.
Take a moment to consider all the Decisions you feel you need to take today and see how many of them are really Choices. For Choices, choose – and attend to the consequences. Where the real Decisions are concerned, be clear on the critical information you need to take them, the relationship they have to your company’s higher purpose, and then decide in plenty of time for those affected to act. Stress for you and those around you will considerably diminish, while capacity, performance and fulfilment in the workplace will increase.