I spent the day yesterday on a college visit / campus tour with my oldest daughter. It was a near perfect day for both of us. Great school, incredible excitement, optimism everywhere, great weather. It was such a good day that it made me want to go back to school (…not really).
It was interesting to talk about the day and the impending decision to attend the school with my daughter, after the dust had settled. At the core of the conversation we had for the next several hours, she was asking me about how I thought about big decisions. The conversation helped me talk through some of the key strategies I have used throughout my career to make big decisions, both professionally and personally.
As I talked it through with her, here are some of the things I told her about strategies for big decisions:
1) The big picture matters. See big decisions in context. Big decisions set you down a course. Often the outcome of this course is unpredictable, but what is very predictable is the general direction that the decision drives you. The direction you choose is probably the single most important aspect of big decisions in life. For example, choosing to start your own business with a franchise system sends you down a possible path to personal freedom and personal legacy. While the success of this path is not guaranteed, it is a very different course than continuing to work for someone else.
2) Optionality is critical. One of the hardest places to be after a decision is made is in a corner with no options if things don’t play out perfectly. Make decisions expecting at least a couple of elements in your plan to fail along the way. Failure, twists and turns are inevitable. And when those failures happen, options for change will be critical. Therefore, make decisions that give you options from the start. Go to a college that gives you the ability to change your major along the way, and if you change, has a great reputation no matter what major you choose. Choose a franchise system that gives you deployment options rather than just a fixed model.
3) Look around for cues. Cues that can give insight to big decisions are all around you. Open your eyes and challenge yourself to see them. Unorthodox cues are all around you and they will often give you the information you need to complete the picture around a critical decision. Read between the lines. For example, when deciding to join a franchise system, how do teams interact with each other? What is their work ethic? How do they dress? Do teams treat each other with a bias towards respect?
4) Don’t rush, but make the call already! Start early. Take your time. Analyze your choices. But take action. I’ve learned this from my wife and my daughters. There is no sense in delaying. Once you’ve taken in all of the inputs to a decision, make the call and move on.
5) Align yourself with the best and brightest. The company you keep is important. Align yourself with smart, talented, caring, hard working, ethical people and your chances for success will increase dramatically. When making decisions involving people, partners or teams, always bias towards the best and brightest people…it will make a difference at some point.
6) Networks matter. Decisions that allow you to expand the network of friends, customers, partners, colleagues are never bad decisions. Networks matter, especially in today’s social media dominated society. While we all are supposedly 6 degrees or less away from each other, being 1 or 2 degrees away from someone who has insight or who can help you work through your next decision is a major asset. It is human nature to want to help other people.
7) Brand matters. While a brand reputation doesn’t always represent every single person in a group, it does definitely paint a context regarding how you or your team will be perceived. Therefore, align yourself with great brands. Said another way, reputation matters.
8) How it feels tells you a lot. Decisions often have a “feel.” While much analysis and planning go into big decisions, how they feel can often tell you has much about what course to take as to what the data tells you. Don’t forget to tune in to how a decision feels and don’t ignore your perceptions of how they feel.
9) Location, location, location. Location is important. It is almost strange how much this phrase can be applied to different types of decisions. Where you sit is going to impact where you stand. The arena that a decision puts you in is going to dictate the degrees of freedom you have to roam and how far you can roam. The arena will set your horizon. Don’t ignore “location.”
10) Trust your gut. No decision is ever perfect. No decision is ever easy. All decisions involve tradeoffs. Let the deciding factor be your gut. More often than not, your gut is right.
11) It is not always about the numbers. Sometimes decisions are made based on more than just economics or numbers. Soft factors like passion, strategic alignment or personal interest can have as much to do with the decision as the numbers. What is even more important is that passion will have a lot to do with motivation after the decision is made.