By Martin Zwilling
Despite many years of advising aspiring entrepreneurs and people in business, I continue to be surprised by the number of people who wait for decisions to be made by default, or allow others to make decisions for them. I assure you that this approach is not the road to happiness, and certainly not the route to optimal decisions. Making no decision is rarely the best approach to life.
For example, I know people who would love to have their own business, rather than be tied to another they don’t fully understand or believe in. Yet, starting a business requires much more than a gut feeling of interest or desire. Every successful new business requires focused work – targeting a specific opportunity, sizing the potential and resources required, and defining success.
None of these elements can be completed primarily by gut instinct, no matter what your background, as clearly argued by Gleb Tsipursky in his new book, “Never Go With Your Gut.” He calls himself a disaster avoidance expert, and bases his recommendations on years of working with and studying large companies, as well as small. My own experience supports his key points:
Identify the need for a decision to be made. This point may seem obvious to some, but I find that many people have no trouble suggesting what others should do, but have trouble recognizing the need for a decision in their own life, especially when it’s not an emergency. The result is lost time, and the window of opportunity may have passed.
Gather relevant information from multiple sources. Of course, your experience and gut instinct are relevant, but should never be used alone. These days, everyone has easy access through the Internet to an infinite variety of facts, insights, and analyses, which can be used improve the accuracy and timeliness of any decision. Do some homework.
Decide on your relevant goals driving this decision. Each of us is different, so never let the goals of your friends or family make your decision for you. This world is full of unhappy, and often ineffective, people in the wrong position. Generally, there are three types of goals: based on time, interests, and long-term objectives. Always follow yours.
Develop clear decision criteria to evaluate options. Here is another point where your gut should be only one input. The decision criteria in any setting are those variables or characteristics that are important to you in life. For most people these criteria would include relevant finances, experience, interest, and satisfaction. Minimize compromise.
Generate viable options that can achieve your goals. This is the brainstorming step, so go for ones that solve your underlying challenge, and don’t judge options just yet. In my experience, the optimal choice almost always involves out-of-the-box thinking and innovation. That’s what successful startups are all about. Your gut may not be creative.
Weigh the options and pick the best of the bunch. When weighing options, try to keep your gut feel out of the picture. Minimize the impact of personalities, relationships, and internal politics on the decision. Don’t be afraid to mix and match parts of different options as seems best suited to the situation at hand. It’s time to make a decision.
Move immediately to implement the option you choose. Ensure clear communication around the decision’s enactment, and accept full accountability for implementation. Think about how your decision can go wrong, and move to guard against these failures. Some people seem to be able to make decisions, but never get around to implementation.
Evaluate the implementation process for follow-up. A perfect implementation of a new business, or any new idea, rarely happens the first time, so be prepared for multiple iterations and revisions. Make this a positive learning process, rather than looking at it as a series of failures. Don’t let your gut derail you before successful implementation.
In reality, a first-rate decision making process like this one is a discipline that is teachable and learnable, and it goes far beyond gut instinct. Unfortunately, in my experience as an angel investor and business consultant, I see leaders at all levels of large companies as well as small, who skip some of the critical steps of this model, leading them to slow growth or even bankruptcy.
In my view, any decision is better than none, and a good decision process is critical to making the best decision for you today. Maybe it’s time for you to take control of your life, and learn to make good decisions, rather than trying to live by someone else’s view of your world. Remember, practice make perfect, and skip the shortcuts.
The Writer is a veteran startup mentor, executive, blogger, author, tech professional, professor, and investor. Published on Forbes, Entrepreneur, Inc, Huffington Post, etc.