3 Rules for Decision-Making

Aside from luck and fate, a substantial portion of one’s life follows the decisions one makes. So while the internet is already littered with tips, tricks, and guidelines on better decision-making, I figured I’d add my own two – or three – cents to the mix. With that, here are three rules for good decision-making:

  1. Trust your gut, but don’t always follow it. Intuition is a powerful thing, but it does not always trump pure thought and logic.
  2. In general, a decision’s impact should be correlated with: a) the time to make the decision, and b) the thought that goes into making the decision. Prompt decisiveness is a valuable quality only when the decision (and the potential impact of such a decision) warrants it.
  3. Consider competing alternatives, outside perspectives, and downstream effects. Decisions can be very complex, but there’s often a wealth of data available to support the decision-making process to include, but not limited to: a finite set of possible options, known effects on others, and expected secondary/tertiary outcomes.

calvin leading

Related Links/Articles

Balanced, Contextual Approaches to Thought & Action

Whether it’s your professional or personal life, sports team, volunteer group, or dinner plate, humans tend to think big. We see ourselves as astronauts on the moon, living happily by the beach, winning the championship, eliminating poverty, and sitting in front of the most beautiful plate of oven-baked lasagna.

In such cases, our human instincts serve us well; thinking big provides the foundation from which our minds find motivation, our lives feel purposeful, and our networks and circles come together under common goals and desires. Thinking big is a critical aspect of maintaining a purposeful life, by seeing life as a journey and not as a big mess of disconnected days, actions, people, movements, and thoughts.

That being said, our goals, dreams, desires, and overall intrinsic value come not through thinking big, but by acting small. The actions we take at each step in life are the driving factors behind where we end up and the impact we make. Our actions give us shape, form, and direction to realize our big thoughts. Our actions carry us through each day to build a purposeful story.

But is this notion of “think big, act small” (TBAS) the optimal approach? Some considerations to make:

1. Flipping the Paradigm: TBAS vs TSAB Approaches

What happens if we flip this paradigm of thinking big and acting small (TBAS)? What if instead we focused on thinking small and acting big (TSAB)? How would our shape, form, and direction differ?

Thinking small may provide us with the ability to deal with manageable chunks, the ability to break down large problems into smaller intellectual divots that we fill through logic and reason. Inherently, thinking small allows us to make smaller decisions, minimize risk, and to tightly align plans with results.

On the other hand, acting big can provide great visibility, posture, control, and leadership. Sure the risks may be elevated, but so are the rewards. Despite human nature, it seems that taking a TSAB approach through life can surely provide the same foundation for success and happiness that a TBAS approach provides.

So when should we utilize a  TBAS approach and when should we utilize a TSAB approach?

2. Understanding Scope: Approaches for Individuals vs Groups

How do our approaches to thinking and acting change given the surrounding environment at any given time? Is one approach better for the professional setting? Is another better for the soccer field? How should our strategies differ when considering differing circumstances? Most importantly, does the presence of others directly influence the scope of our thinking, and if so, to what extent might this be within our control?

I find myself thinking big in the morning, thinking smaller throughout the day, then thinking big again at night. Both morning and night are when I see and am around the least amount of people, while during the day it’s a constant interaction of many different people through conversations, technology, and sense. So is the scope of my thoughts primarily dependent on the size of my immediate social environment?

My actions are tougher to characterize as the scope of them has no obvious correlation to any temporal component, physical surroundings, or social environment. So are actions less guided by our surroundings than our thoughts? How does the scope of our actions and/or the willingness to take big actions depend on the size of the acting body? Is the success rate higher for larger groups taking smaller actions, or smaller groups taking larger actions?

3. Independence: Decoupling Thoughts from Actions

The discussion of scope lends us the idea that thoughts and actions may be influenced by completely different elements, from the time of day to the size of our immediate social environment. So does it benefit us at any one time to decouple thoughts from actions, or is it in our best interest to bind the two so tightly that all our actions are driven by thought, and all our thoughts stem from actions? Is the strength of the bond unique for every individual, and again, is it within our control?

Concluding Thoughts

At the end of the day it is my belief that, given the events in our lives both within and beyond our control, we should be readied with TBAS and TSAB approaches, guided by an assumption that the strength of the bond between thoughts and actions as well as the scope of each is well within our control. Some days our best approach is to build visions and lend a hand, while other days require thoughtful prayers and leaps of faith. Realizing these differing approaches while beginning to analyze the interactions between thoughts and actions is critical to providing strategies for any situation. More importantly, it maximizes the chance for positive results and successful outcomes, for both the individual and the populations at large. Now that’s a pretty big thought.

Postulating Possible, Probable, and Preferable Futures

With regards to futurology and future studies, I’ve recently posted on the principles of forecasting as well as the origins of opportunity – two distant yet related topics that exemplify the breadth and depth of the field.

As my own futures research has progressed, I’ve found various sources that have proven to be quite valuable in guiding my curiosity and conjecturing. I think some of these are worth passing along:

  • Acceleration Studies Foundation (ASF) – ASF is an educational 501(c)(3) nonprofit engaged in outreach, education, research, and selective advocacy with respect to issues of accelerating change.
  • Futurology (Wikipedia)
  • Institute for Alternative Futures – The Institute for Alternative Futures (IAF) is a nonprofit research and educational organization founded in 1977. IAF and its for-profit subsidiary, Alternative Futures Associates (AFA), specialize in aiding organizations and individuals to more wisely choose and create their preferred futures. IAF works with clients to create forecasts, scenarios, goals and strategies that are the essential tools for transforming organizations to succeed in times of rapid change.
  • Institute For The Future (IFTF)
  • Principles of Forecasting (ForPrin)
  • Shaping Tomorrow – Online community of futurists and futures research
  • Shaping Tomorrow (Ning Network)
  • “The Time Lords” (Financial Times, 1/30/2007)
  • World Future Society (WFS) – The World Future Society is a nonprofit, nonpartisan scientific and educational association of people interested in how social and technological developments are shaping the future. The Society was founded in 1966 and is chartered as a nonprofit educational and scientific organization in Washington, D.C.
  • World Futures Studies Federation (WFSF) – The World Futures Studies Federation (WFSF) is a global NGO that was founded in the 1960s to encourage and promote the development of futures studies as a transdisciplinary academic and professional field in all parts of the world. WFSF operates as a global network of practicing futurists – researchers, teachers, scholars, policy analysts, activists and others from approximately 60 countries.

In a nutshell, futures studies is exactly that – studies of the future. It’s about the determining the total set of possibilities for tomorrow, finding the most probable of outcomes for tomorrow, and leveraging advanced knowledge to even shape the future.

Wikipedia, as spread across the spectrum of credibility as it may be, provides a pretty decent explanation of the mindset needed to be truly forward-looking. What qualities are required of a futurist, within any organization or for any requirement or need, to fully anticipate the unknown using the set of resources at his/her disposal (data, intuition, logic, technology, vision, science, etc.)?

  • Trend Assessment – The competency to understand trend directions, weak signals and wildcards, assess their likely impact and effect on one another and respond in a timely and appropriate manner
  • Pattern Recognition – The ability to see patterns rather than individual factors
  • System Perspective: The capability to envision the entire system rather than the isolated components
  • Anticipation: To anticipate short and long term consequences over time, novel situations and geography
  • Instinct & Logic: To rely on a combination of instincts and logic rather than purely rational analysis

Yes, there is a plethora of philosophical, political, religious, scientific, and even incomprehensible factors that may give shape to the future (or take that shape away). But that should not deter us from facing it head on. We all need to work smarter not harder, avoid surprises, exploit new opportunities, plug weaknesses, and (where possible) influence the future.

Spectrum Logic

The visual representation of information is critical for both learning and teaching. To put something on paper and organize the information as to make visual sense – in words, lines, colors, and curves – is to recognize some understanding and to create a basis for new insight and discovery.

Logic is the study of reasoning, the systematic approach to reaching a conclusion, or the examination of competing arguments with regards to a central issue or question. Logic can be broken down into deductive and inductive reasoning, one drawing conclusions from specific examples and the other drawing conclusions from definitions or axioms. Logic can also be broken down into analysis and synthesis, one examining individual component parts and the other combining component parts into a whole. In any event, logic is a way to get from questions to answer, disbelief to belief, and data to insight.

One such type of logic is visual logic, or what I’ll call “spectrum logic”. It’s the combination of the visual representation of information and the many realms of logic. The reason I use the term “spectrum” is two-fold. First of all, it’s by definition the representation of a full range of possible values/conditions for a given topic. And second of all, it suggests continuity along its range and therefore implies a high level of seamlessness and efficiency.

So in the world of analysis and problem solving, how do we apply spectrum logic? Well, just follow every possible visual path from any origin within your visual space and try to optimize your path to the result. Place your problem in the center of a sphere/cube and run the full spectrum of paths to that center point. Left to right and right to left, bottom-up and top-down, outside in and inside out, spiral inward and spiraling out. Think about the component parts that make up the visual space, and the conditions that fall along each path. Why is your problem so complex? What makes it so complex? Can you qualify your problem in color, words, shape, and text? Can you quantify it and its components? Is it made up of many unknown dimensions or a few known ones? Picture your problem, logically break it apart, and put it back together. Take a diverse set of paths to and from your problem, and find out which one gives you an optimal set of insights in return. Hopefully, if the answers and conclusions are not clear, you’ll at least have learned something in the process.

Brain And Gut Purchases, Cars Included

There are some self-propelled feelings that are in a world of their own: accepting a new job offer, graduating from school, winning an intramural championship, and the first drive in a new car (among others). By self-propelled, I mean that they take a lot of individual effort (in addition to that of several friends, teammates, colleagues, and family members) to make happen. In more obvious words, it’s the toughest goals that feel best when attained.

With that, buying a car is NOT EASY. It takes a lot of time to research, compare, test drive, communicate with dealers/sellers, and work the numbers. When the numbers are worked, they’re usually big. It’s a major financial commitment that can’t be made in a vacuum. There are tons of options out there. How do you know that the car you get is the perfect car for you. When all is considered, it’s a lot to consider.

But in the end, the reward is great. The feeling is awesome. I’ll start with the end product, then give some advice…

I ended up with a 2007 Lexus IS 250 with 19K miles on it. It’s AWD, 6-Cyl, 22/28 mpg, 201 HP, nav system, keyless ignition, backup camera, blue exterior, black leather interior. I got it from CarMax with an extended 6 yr / 72K mile warranty. I LOVE IT. It’s sporty, practical, and very much me. My picture above kind of stinks given the storm we had this weekend, but when cleaned and washed… wowzas. That feeling of pulling out of the lot all registered and complete was accomplishment, happiness, and relief all in one.

I started my research months ago on both the types of new cars and the available purchasing options and incentives. My first realization was that it can get confusing fast and it would take the good ol’ organizational toolbox to best assess my options. Spreadsheets, calculators, and lots of notes…

In general, here is some advice for a car buyer:

1. Be open to everything. Don’t convince yourself that you like something to make the process easier. It’s a lot better to back-track and get frustrated now than to be unhappy with a purchase later. I started with wanting a gas-guzzling, new SUV and ended up with a small, used sedan.

2. Do the math. Don’t believe anything til you have proven it to yourself. If you need to make a decision for a dealer within the next 10 minutes, don’t. It will be your car, and there’s lots of them out there. Most times, the numbers are the best truths on paper. Set limits, estimate expenses, and make your car fit your budget.

3. Diversify your sources of advice. Many people have purchased cars before and therefore have lots of (different) lessons learned. As with many choices in life, the best advice you can get is a lot of different advice from credible sources. Thanks especially to Dad and Christine here though.

4. Last of all, but most importantly, make your purchase with both your brain and your gut. It’s a “One Brain” purchase, requiring logic and everything non-logical. Aside from making the numbers work, you need to find the right balance between power, style, comfort, fuel efficiency… and happiness. When you see you car, you need to be happy it’s your car.

So when it feels right, you’ll know. If you don’t know, then it won’t feel right. How’s that for logic?