Over my years, I have made tons of decisions. It was not until recently that I started to see patterns, which helped me improve the quality of those decisions. I also realized that these patterns did not just exist in my personal life, but they could be found in nature and the world we live in, as well as in the businesses and the organizations we work for. Below I would like to share my thoughts on the 3 keys – or doors you should open - to making great decisions.
Door #1: Think systemically
Sir Isaac Newton’s third law of motion states that “every action has an equal and opposite reaction”. I believe this concept of balance does not just apply to the physics of motion, but also to all things in nature, in our lives, and in business. Nature and its ecosystem is intended to be balanced. Our lives should be balanced. Organizations should be balanced. To help with balance, is it great to think systemically. This helps you think of the big picture and helps you balance short-term and long-term perspectives.
When making decisions, it is important to ensure that whatever decision you make does not upset the balance. When it does, those are typically called unintended consequences. There are times where things get stuck in a reinforcing loop which can cause imbalance but for the most part, things should be in a state of balance.
In our personal life, we always talk about work and life balance. In nature, the ecosystem is supposed to be balanced. When decisions are made that do not keep balance, dire consequences can occur. The decision to use fossil fuels for many things, as an example, may have helped advance technology but it created an imbalance between greenhouse gas emissions and the ability for natural processes to absorb those emissions. The result is a continued increase in greenhouse gases, and CO2 in the atmosphere has increased by at least 40% over the past 200 years. That is one big unintended consequence that needs to be balanced out.
Every action can have unintended consequences and it is very important to think about those possible consequences before making decisions. With all decisions, make sure you are thinking systemically and thinking about the unintended consequences of the decision and try to keep the balance.
Door #2: Align with Strategic Goals
What is the value of a decision if the output does not align with strategic goals? In your personal life, strategic goals help you determine what matters most in your life. Then your decisions should be weighed against whether the outcome helps you get there. If it is an important job, then decisions should be helping you obtain that job. If it is to retire early, then financial decisions should be helping you to obtain that. In business, it is critical to align to organizations' strategic goals. It avoids misalignment and teams working in silos.
Door #3: Be Data-informed
Decisions which are systemic, and which are aligned with strategic goals, also need to leverage data and evidence. This helps you take into account both measurable and non-measurable factors. There is plenty of data that you can use when making your decisions. But don’t forget the intangible evidence and information. This includes things like morale, levels of trust, relationships in work and in life. We need to leverage the tangible data along with the knowledge of these intangibles to make data-informed decisions.
Being data-informed is not only important when you are making a decision, but just as importantly, when evaluating your decision. We mentioned earlier that there are times when things may be unbalanced for a short period, and that is ok. The key is to use data and evidence to be aware of that and then course correct. This mantra is similar to the one that many famous leaders have said about not worrying about making a decision and being wrong, just identify it is wrong quickly and recover. In other words, fail fast.
To do that you need to use data and evidence to review your decision and see if it is in fact systemic and aligned with strategic goals. Void of any data or evidence, you cannot course correct.
So, 3 key doors to making good decisions in nature, life, and business are to: think systemically, align the decision with strategic goals, and be data-informed. When you are making decisions, ask yourself these questions:
1. What possible unintended consequences can you think of based off your decision?
2. Is your decision aligned with strategic goals?
3. Is your decision informed with data and evidence?
If you follow this simple recipe, the aggregate of your decisions will help you get where you want to go.