A decision of one is never a good decision

I’ve recently implemented a mantra for my decision making process — “a decision of one is never a good decision.”

What does this mean?

If you only have one option, your decision is fucked to begin with.

If you only have one option, one thing to choose from, there is too much weight on that decision. It’s hard to be objective because you have nothing to compare it to.

Decisions are always harder to make when you only have one option to choose from. All of the weight of the world falls onto the shoulders of whether or not you take that one option.

Instead, I believe that in any decision, the goal should always be to have as many options as possible (within reason). When we have options we have a basis for comparison. We can apply criteria to the decisions and evaluate the options against each other to see their respective merits.

I believe that when we have multiple options, the natural best choice usually rises to the surface.

If you’re evaluating a new job and only have one offer, that decision seems like it has to define the next years of your life. It has to be the perfect opportunity or nothing. If that job is missing something you will analyze it and scrutinize and it will be hard to get a sense of how important that missing piece really is.

If, on the other hand, you have three job offers, you can objectively weigh them against each other. One might give you more freedom. Another might give you more money. A third might be a balance of the two, or it might be the crappiest of all three. Either way, you can choose which is most important to you, and make a decision accordingly.

Too many good options? Some people might say beware of “decision paralysis”.

I say fuck that.

Too many good options means you can’t make the wrong choice. If you have three options and all of them are great, there’s no wrong choice. You’re simply choosing between varying degrees of slightly more awesome than the other. Go with the one that feels right and rest assured if you could create this many options once, you’ll be able to do it again in the future.

If you have to make a decision and you’re only dealing with one option — delay the decision (if you can). Go find more options. Create new opportunities.

If that means you have to pass up on the one, in my opinion you should do it. I’d rather let that opportunity pass by than select it merely because it was the only one sitting in front of me.

If it’s a legitimately good decision and it’s a no brainer, go for it. If you’re second guessing it and don’t feel right about it…let it pass. Find another. Find two more, three more, five more.

Turns out I’m not the only one who believes in this framework either.

I recently saw this article about a study showing the key difference between the people who make bad decisions vs. the people who make good ones. If you don’t want to read the whole thing the punchline is summarized as follows.

“The most striking finding in Professor Nutt’s research was this: Only 15 percent of the decisions he studied involved a stage where the decision makers actively sought out a new option beyond the initial choices on the table. In a later study, he found that only 29 percent of organizational decision makers contemplated more than one alternative. This turns out to be a bad strategy. Over the years, Professor Nutt and other researchers have demonstrated a strong correlation between the number of alternatives deliberated and the ultimate success of the decision itself. In one of his studies, Professor Nutt found that participants who considered only one alternative ultimately judged their decision a failure more than 50 percent of the time, while decisions that involved contemplating at least two alternatives were felt to be successes two-thirds of the time.”

In other words, the best decision makers DIDN’T SETTLE FOR ONE OPTION. The best decision makers were the people who found more options instead of settling for the ones already in front of them.

Moreover, the less options that these people considered, the higher likelihood of making a bad decision. The people who only had one or two options to choose from were more likely to rate their decision as a bad one.

Let’s review. The best decision makers seek out as many choices and options as possible. The worst decision makers settle for a lack of options and choose between the lesser of two evils.

‘Nuff said.

If you need to make a decision, get as many options/opinions/perspectives as you can. If you don’t like the options in front of you, find new ones. Don’t settle. Search for options until the best one rises to the surface.

A decision of one is never a good decision. Decide to never have only one option. Decide to give yourself choices. Decide to be a better decision maker :)


Originally published at Troy Erstling.