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

Ask More Questions

What percent of spoken sentences are questions? How does this rate change with age? How does this rate vary based on personality, gender, level of education, or even time of day? Questions are the engine of curiosity and the fuel for understanding, innovation, and social connections. We need to ask more of them from the day we are born to the day we die.

calvin question

So why are questions so important? Six obvious reasons:

  1. Education: At their core, questions are the basis for learning and understanding new concepts (as well as confirming one’s understanding of a particular concept).
  2. Advancement: Beyond the education of localized individuals, questions push the advancement of society at a regional and global scale, motivating large groups to build upon answers of the past to find new truths about life and living.
  3. Creativity: Some questions, no matter how tangential they may be to a core topic, are the sparks for creativity and innovative thought for both individuals and groups (no matter how large).
  4. Connections: Questions create dialogue and are two-way (and often multi-way) streets that create bonds between people.
  5. Assessment: Questions are tools through which one can gain a remarkable amount of information on an individual – seeing how they react and respond to certain situations – to determine fit for friendship, collaboration, leadership, or even love.
  6. Identity: Questions do not need to be spoken, but often are the most powerful when internalized in an effort to formalize one’s beliefs, attitudes, and values.

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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.

Listening, Lighting Fires, and Laughing Uncontrollably

“It is the province of knowledge to speak, and it is the privilege of wisdom to listen.” – Oliver Wendell Holmes

Listening is an enabler, for love, learning, understanding, advising, taking action, and a whole lot more. Listening allows us to process speech, convert emotions, build thoughts, and plan reactions. Listening balances expression; if our speech, tone, and visible emotions lift us up, it’s our ability to subsequently listen that gets us back on the ground.

But a problem is that listening requires input – input that is not always there and is entirely dependent upon another party. It’s not entirely common that the speaker knows what to say or is able to sufficiently express the thoughts, ideas, and feelings that tread his or her mind.

Accordingly, the responsibility to effectively navigate this two-way street goes to both parties. As a listener, it’s important to enable effective input through a variety of measures, such as setting the tone, establishing trust, and asking the right question.

An additional tactic for effective two-way communication that enables the most intellectually profitable form of listening, is to light a fire that is easily put out. By lighting the light fire – an easily distinguishable one that gives the reader some initial motivation – more valuable data is exchanged between parties, fueled by more sincere emotion of those parties. As a result, our collective knowledge grows and wisdom prevails while the relationship still gets stronger.

Listening is not just sitting back and acting interested; listening is active participation in the conversation, and in particular, invoking in the speaker the right drivers for speech and expression. At the end of the day, we are all people, and all have things to say, opinions to share, and feelings to express. We should embrace each conversation as a two-way street and ensure we optimize the result of that conversation by using all tactics at hand. Let’s all be active listeners.

“To listen well, is as powerful a means of influence as to talk well, and is as essential to all true conversation.” – Chinese Proverb

Well my post is actually done, but as I was scanning the web for some good images that might be representative of the above, I somehow stumbled on this one below, and burst out laughing as a result. C’mon, that’s worth a good hearty chuckle!


Six Sigma, Switching Spices, and Embracing the Slight Deviations in Life

Although in many aspects of life we must minimize variation to obtain desirable outcomes, it’s when we embrace the slight deviations from normalcy that we obtain leverage, advancement, and enrichment.

Six Sigma

Six Sigma, developed by Motorola in 1981, is a “rigorous and disciplined methodology that uses data and statistical analysis to measure and improve a company’s operational performance by identifying and eliminating defects.” In other words, it’s a business management strategy that seeks to minimize variation in operational processes to obtain desirable results for that business/industry.

For manufacturing, production, risk management, supply chain management, accounting, customer service, and many other traditional business functions, minimizing variation is critical for ensuring sustainability, accountability, and efficiency. If the outputs of these functions deviated from what was to be expected, well, it could be expected that the people, the business, and the industry could all be severely impacted at some level.

But in order to spur innovation, create new channels for business, and adapt to markets and mediums that are constantly in flux, these businesses must foster and embrace the slight deviations from what is traditional or expected. There are incredible resources available to allow for these deviations to be leveraged without enormous risk to the bottom line, public image, or financial outlook:

  • The internet is an amazingly efficient platform to test new strategies, engage with the public, and collaborate with the universe.
  • Statistical methods supply new insight to what may have been and what might be, should this or that occur, with one thing or another considered.
  • Social networks can be easily tapped and leveraged for business insight. More is understood about behavioral patterns and social networks than ever before, allowing more direct correlation of business decisions to societal impact.

Business functions, organizations, and entire industries can be bettered by embracing and running with such deviations, even if the short-term prospect could be unknown and questionable. Balancing normalcy with cultured variations is a mixed business strategy that provides leverage within that market, advances industry, and enriches society.

Switching Spices

Let’s move from biz to grub. Think of cooking as a math problem. Ingredients are your variables/inputs, methods are your coefficients/operators, and your dish is the output. Given the huge number of ingredients and spices, cooking and plating techniques, and methods of consumption, the range of outputs is somewhere around or above infinity. But given that our options are so vast, it’s amazing how much the output might change if just one of our inputs is changed.

The dish is our dynamical system. Sometimes all it takes is turning up the temperature, or maybe adding more juice, or switching a spice, and the dish becomes entirely new. This is math and food in bed together – the application of chaos theory to culinary experience – making slight deviations from recipes and “comfort-zone” cooking to find new dishes worth trying, sharing, and bragging about.

As much as cooking is an experience, it’s also an experiment. There may be structure – in terms of baking methods and recipe books and kitchen etiquette – but in reality, the door is wide open. Ingredients are for the using, and recipes are for abusing. The best dishes are the unexpected ones, the ones that deviated from expectation, the ones that turned from trial and error to don’t-want-to-share. The mistakes are worth making, for it’s the hundreds of bad pasta dishes that lead to the thousands of great ones. Without embracing the variation in cooking, well, we mind as well hook up to the same gas pump each day.

And lastly, if the world of cooking was its own planet, every inch of it would be covered with a different species, color, scent, appearance, and shape. There is an infinite number of combinations of ingredients, quantities, temperatures, styles, and dishes to consume. Sometimes just switching one spice with another or stirring a little less makes all the difference in making your palate happy and opening a world of new potential dishes. Embracing slight variations in cooking will create new kitchen opportunities, expand your breadth of culinary knowledge and experience, and enrich your palate with a vast array of potential flavors.

Adaptive Normality

So what would our world look like if everything was constantly normal? Would we even have a concept of normality? With no variation from what has been done previously, we would essentially cease to learn, experiment, discover, and grow as a society and civilization.

What makes individuals unique makes many individuals stronger.

Our characteristics give us dimension. Our characteristics – from eye colors to expressions to birthmarks – give us each an identity that we own while making our society as a whole much stronger, multi-dimensional, and poised to grow.

Our choices give us direction. Our choices – from picking a college to financial spending habits to lending a hand – fuel and steer us down towards success and happiness, down roads that sometimes seem endless, foggy, and even non-existent.

Realizing that much good in our lives is based on slight deviations from normality, we must continue to pursue opportunities away from the norm. We must adapt our conceptualization of normality from a straight line to one that constantly moves and includes the variation in life. Our threshold for risk must include these slight deviations so we make them a part of our everyday life. Pushing the envelope in multiple ways brings advancement and enrichment. Divergent thinking, trying new dishes, and taking roads less traveled are all small deviations worth embracing. Although it’s normalcy that might keep us standing, its variation that moves us forward.

A World Of Readers, Thinkers, And Sleuths

“Let your mind wander through time and space, and follow its trail with curious grace.”

With regards to reading books, I’ve gone through several phases in my life. I enjoyed them as a young kid, then hated them in middle school, and was swamped by them in high school. I read mostly magazines and equations in college. But in grad school, I learned to find time for books outside of class and homework, and began understanding them more clearly. And now, well, I don’t really have a definition for it… but I’ll try.

I love books. I absolutely love books and I think they love me. Old books, new books, bright books, dusty books, hardcovers, paperbacks, biographies, picture books, ones with funky-looking text, ones with big characters, cookbooks, humorous musings, philosophical contemplations, new takes on old theories, old takes on novel wonders, manuscripts, adventures, essays, creative ramblings, confessions, ones with good names, and especially the nameless ones. There are so many books to love, and I love them all. I love that I can love them all. They are there for me when I want them and there for me when I don’t want them. I can read when I’m happy, read when I’m sad, read when I’m puzzled, or read when I’m mad. I don’t have a deadline for a book and I’m not tested when I’m done with it. I can pick it up when I want, and can forget about it if I want to do that too.

The book store is one of my favorite places. I really can’t believe how many books have been written. These are the words and thoughts of people from all over the world, on all types of topics, in a sometimes-organized-often-disorganized effort to better understand our world. These are the words of the millions of deceased – those that saw what I could not see – and willingly tried to explain it to a world of readers with whom they have no acquaintance.

It’s also funny that book stores are categorized, because the case can be made to fit any book under a thousand headings. That being said, I’m always surprised at how well most authors can maintain the scope and focus of a single book. I find my mind wandering constantly and, as a result, feel that this is the natural way for me to write and express my thoughts and feelings. Scope and focus are nice if and only if scope and focus are how you feel you can best express your thoughts and feelings to the world.

With that in mind, let me express a small array of thoughts:

1. Books, and literacy in general, provide a channel through which we all can better understand the world in which we live.

2. Reading and embracing books at a young age (including picture books) fosters creativity, analytical thinking, and a drive for discovery and understanding.

3. No book is a bad book, and everyone is an author. We all have something to say, and everything said is worth a read.

4. Writing and reading enables self-realization coupled with the ability to wear other people’s shoes. Books connect and network our planet – the living, the dead, and the unborn.

Lastly, I want to quickly describe a couple web resources that help organize that which we read while making it a most economical endeavor. Aside from all the free content I can get from the web, these are a few of the mechanisms I use to discover, monitor, research, and purchase books:

  • Amazon – I use the built-in “Wish List” feature to maintain a collection of every book in which I’ve had some interest in purchasing or researching more. The Amazon iPhone app is also great – for adding books to the wish list and even purchasing books within a few clicks. I’ll usually walk around the book store, find a title I like, read the front/back covers, flip through a few pages, then look it up right away on the Amazon iPhone app, read some reviews, and either add it to my wish list or immediately purchase a used copy (for around 1-50% of the in-store/new price). Amazon itself is also a fantastic place to find similar books, related but higher-rated books, or books on any other random topic in which you might have a short- or long-term interest.
  • Google Books – I use a lot of Google products because I like having many dimensions of my life synced in the cloud under my one Google profile. Google Books is another one of these and is where I keep track of what I’ve read, what I’m reading, and what I want to read. I can read reviews (including those from Amazon), write reviews, add personal notes, and even read excerpts (if not all) of the book online. A very nice online, personal library.

That’s about it for now. Love books. Read books. Write in your books. Share them with others. Talk about your books. Recommend your favorites. Have fun with them!