Uncertainty… Such a sweet word these days. It’s everywhere. The world is uncertain whether we can prevent global warming. Companies are unsure if they can survive in a speeding interconnected world with highly demanding customers. Your cat is confused why you didn’t feed him in time and where your slippers are to restore the justice.
These are all big scale uncertainties. Today I want to talk about an uncertainty on a personal level.
For last four years, there were plenty of changes in my life. I left my job and went freelance, I broke up with my girlfriend and realised I had lost a path I want to follow. Though first three years weren’t easy, they were a mere joke comparing to the last one when I made “the best decision in my life” and started my own company.
No, I didn’t get huge investments. No, I don’t have an exponential growth (sorry, Erik, I read your book from cover to cover, and it didn’t help me. Yet.) Yes, my company is just one of 99.9% of companies you never heard of.
So it’s fun and challenging. And I have to deal with an uncertainty daily. I almost got busted by it at the beginning of this year. As any survivor, I created rules to stay alive and, hopefully, sane.
Rule #1: Take a break
Remember your first time driving a car without an instructor? The sun is shining. A warm wind is blowing your hair. You feel like a star. And now you need to make a left turn on a busy crossroad. Thank God, it has a stoplight. And it’s already green. And the gear got stuck. A car behind started beeping. You feel the sweat going down a new shirt. Finally, you managed to set the first gear and drive forward, too nervous to take a left. After all, four right turns are as good as one left…
From time to time I find myself pressured by circumstances or people who want me to make a decision fast. Not always I can provide the one I’m sure about. In this case, I do something counterintuitive — make a break. I tell everyone and everything in my head, “Sorry, folks, I’m in the cave, and the wifi is down. See you later.”
After that, I go running, take a nap or open a book. I do something, anything to get the issue out of my head and trust my guts to find a solution.
It may seem from the examples above that a break should be a short one. Not at all. In the first half of this year, I stayed away from my product for almost two months. I didn’t know what direction to choose, so all I did was listening to my customers for a while. In the end, a clear vision had formed and I was back enjoying the flow.
Next time you are at a crossroad, struggling with gear, and a driver behind you honking like crazy, take a break. Make two-three deep breaths and go the direction you want. After all, it’s your journey, and you want to enjoy it, not to follow the routes pushed by others.
And don’t forget to show that bustard a finger!
Rule #2: Be like my Mom
My Mom loves to go shopping. However, she doesn’t like to make a final decision on her own. She prefers to hear an advice or opinion of a family member and tests a piece of clothing a bit. She buys an item, brings it home and keeps it for a couple of days to form a clear picture. It’s quite ordinary she returns the thing to a shop.
It’s a standard approach, and many people do this way. The difference is how my Mom thinks about it. She calculates the costs of postponing a decision in advance: how much time it takes to get to/from a shop, how much money she needs to spend on a ride, has she enough time and desire to go through the process again?
The algorithm is simple:
- She calculates the costs and decides if they are okay
- She sets a deadline to make a choice
- She does her best during this period to collect info to make a more balanced decision
I use the algorithm as often as possible. It’s an easy way to take a break — rule #1 — and get more time. While not removing an initial uncertainty, this approach replaces it with a clear step by step plan.
If you don’t trust my Mom (how dare you??!), I recommend to read a terrific book Commitment by Olav Maassen and Chris Matts. It’s about Real Options model, which describes in more general terms the approach my Mom uses.
What rules do you regularly apply to make better decisions?