The year has ended, and it’s time to look back on what we accomplished in the life chapters we have left behind. It’s time to collect our learnings and project them into better opportunities for the year to come. How can I use my strengths to the best I can? What can I do to bring more success in my (work and personal) life? There is one thing that consistently turns up when it comes to success. The best, successful outcomes share one thing and one thing only: they came from people that took the right approach. They came from doing the right thing.
Doing the right thing can be very different. It could be the right moment to start a new job or the right time to give your failing attempts one last shot. Knowing how to make the right decision, and making it a habit is the key. It looks more natural than it is in reality, you may say. If it were that easy, everyone would apply simple mechanisms, wouldn’t they? Have a guaranteed recipe for success would make me far more popular, but unfortunately, you won’t find it in these words, it’s not what I have in my hands.
To me, being right is not a science. It’s about regular practice. When you make the right choice, it rewards those who have exercised it regularly. It helps your confidence and peace of mind when a lot depends on your options. Makes you resilient to change. It is possible to focus on simple actions and adopt routines to help us being right; do the right thing, and do it often. In this article, I’d like to share the simple methods I adopted over the years to become “a bit more right” and help me clear my mind when it comes the moment of tough decisions.
It is about rapid decision making
Making the best decision while trading on the stock market. Taking the right turn in a car race. Shooting the perfect sunset pic. They all have in common the same key to success: a rapid, decisive split-second decision. Being fast in deciding whether your action is the right thing, is priority number one. Knowing what to consider and understand the tradeoffs, the consequences are only part of the solution. Fast decision making is also dependent on other factors: how knowledgeable are you with the type of decision? Is it something you are overly familiar? Have you seen others taking successfully the same turn? When individuals make decisions, there are plenty of aspects we consider, even without knowing it. Teams making fast decisions have to deal with a different level of complexities: how fast the team finds alignment? How do we know we will all go through executing the decision and not dragging our feet in disagreement? How can we trust a group decision when individuals only host parts of the answers?
Teams that know how to make rapid decisions can scale the same benefits of individual smaller quick decisions. In my career, I came to learn two immutable constructs that helped me make team decisions: incremental steps and two-way doors.
There are times when there is not enough data to base an informed decision. These are times when taking minimum risks is on the top of our minds. Deciding on which of the two options is the smallest incremental change, is a way to w quickly determine and re-evaluate at a later time if the direction was right. The slightest change may look the risk-averse choice but being able to recognise which option is the smallest to operate, automatically tells you which option is the one you control the most. It is the same principle behind most of the Agile project frameworks: iterate quickly over incremental changes, then measure the impact and coarse correct the direction towards the next objective.
Other times there may not be an evident smaller change to choose. Those could be times when minimising risk is not a matter to avoid the less known option, but rather secure an easy exit. When things go wrong, knowing you have a panic button, you can press and go back to safety can be the deal-maker for a fast decision. It is also known as a two-way door decision: when it’s possible to go back and re-evaluate if the choice made was not the right one. But how to recognise if a decision is a two-way door one? They tend to have common traits: they do not change irreparably the primary resources (e.g. over-cooking pasta is NOT a two-way door decision :) ). Changing the price of an item on sale is also an excellent example of two-way door decision as it can be reverted any time. The ultimate question you should ask yourself is: for how long I will have to live with the consequences of this decision? If the answer is a finite period that sounds acceptable to you, you are likely looking at a two-way door.
There is no such a thing as risks
The biggest obstacle to rapid decision making is fear itself. Fear of taking unknown risks. Fear of facing the consequences of wrong actions. Striving to make our lives better is a human trait that is strongly present in everything do. More accentuated in our work lines. We worry about reducing the meaningfulness of our actions (e.g. from a failed attempt), and it is something that gets even stronger when we depend on others when we work in teams. Teams that fear taking risks find themselves in stasis that discourages collaboration and product innovations. As leaders, we need to cope with risks as part of the ordinary course of actions. Instead of building frameworks where people defy dangers by listing counter-measures (e.g. building risk matrices and how to fight them), we can learn to account for different possible outcomes. Encourage and reward the most significant risks that create positive impact and transform failed attempts in learning opportunities. An example of a mechanism I have used is treating outcomes in a different output look. Look back at successes with an eye in the past: celebrate what happened, what were the critical achievements we should replicate. Take failed attempts with an eye to the future: take what we learned and pivot it into what can we do in the future to have a better outcome.
Know how you are listening for feedback
Be on the right track may be hard at times, but if there is one thing that you should take away is that even in the most complicated situations, doing the right thing is a matter of being aware. Keep an open mind about the situation, be ready to adapt your point of views and listen to feedback. It is hard admitting to having taken a wrong turn, but applying self-criticism is the most accessible gear to insert and invert the problem into a solution. You may think you already are open to feedback, but what are you doing with it? Are you acting as a consequence of uncomfortable feedback or merely dismissing it? Even in the toughest situations, it is possible to be resilient to whatever possible negative outcome awaits us if we learn to listen, understand and act on feedback. Acknowledge you won’t be right at times. Make peace with yourself that you’ll encounter failures, and even multiple attempts won’t succeed. But what are you doing to cope with that? How easy is for you to be back on your feet and start walking a different path? This is the measure of how you are doing the Right Thing