Blog Post: Decision Making When Things Seem So Unpredictable

Decision Making When Things Seem So Unpredictable

Decisions! How do they affect us? Why can we make decisions so well on some things and so poorly (or not at all) on other things?

Sometimes we think we are making decisions, and instead we are just letting life make them for us.

Big decisions, little decisions — are you super decisive? Do you make all decisions the same way?

Do all decisions affect us the same way?

3 years ago today was a BIG decision day for us! The question ... do we begin setting logs for our new home or wait till spring? You see the process of setting the logs and getting the roof on and windows in to ‘dry-in’ the home was expected to take 3 months. In fact, the building department gave you a 3-month limit — so although my husband and I were ‘the labor’ for our home building project, we had worked out the specifics and knew there were not enough man-hours between 2 people to get this part of the job done in 3 months, so we had hired 2 helpers (with great experience!) and contracted with a local roofer to do the roof sheathing and waterproofing peel & stick material that would protect our home for the next 9 months or so, through the winter. With that team in place – and 12-hour days for my hubby and I, it should be doable. Once we hit dry-in, we would take a month off of the project!

That was our plan in late June. The logs were set to arrive in late July and we would get started right away as our foundation permit was coming through any day, so the foundation work would be done and ready to go when the logs arrived.  

Then things started shifting.

  • The building department was taking longer on the permit than expected and foundation work was not able to start.
  • We got notified our logs were running late — about 1 month late!
  • Our excavator got so busy that when the foundation permit finally came through in late August, he could no longer fit our job in and we had to rustle up another excavator.

Since the logs had been delayed again – things were still jiving – but the weather was starting to become a concern. So, by late September the foundation was ready, but no logs! And we had our first snow. We kept busy with all the fire mitigation work to be done, calling the log supplier, and keeping the building department and our helpers advised and FINALLY, on Oct 23rd the logs arrived. We carted them up the hill and filled the staging area before a 3-day storm moved in dropping the temperatures and about 8” of snow. The weather reports looked reasonably good for another 25 days and the Farmer’s Almanac looked promising — but if we decided to start setting logs, the clock would start on our 3-month window and we would be committed to working through whatever the weather brought to be dried-in in 3 months! Decision time! Go or no go?

How do you make a decision when critical factors are out of your control?

The need to make a decision comes about because there is an opportunity or obstacle that has appeared in the path to where you are going in life. For many people, they just take the path of least resistance for themselves and seemingly don’t make decisions but let life situations just happen to them. Other people seem like they rule the world with their decisions — that come quickly and often — changing the direction of occurrences for both themselves and everyone around them. Most of us fall somewhere in the middle of those two.

As a business owner, you learn that it is part of your role to make decisions regarding many things that affect you and others and it is helpful to become at least reasonably adept at making decisions in a timely fashion and with careful consideration of the various outcomes that could occur because of your decision.

One of the first things to consider is — how big of a decision is this?

NOTE: It is always good to ask yourself if this is a decision or choice that needs to be made or simply something that should be done to stay in keeping with your values. If your values will be violated by not doing it, or by doing it – then go with your values and you are good! No decision necessary! Decisions are required when that is not clear without some evaluation.

If it is a decision of little consequence — what a great time to delegate! (Learning to delegate well is another critical skill for a business owner, so practice doing it well on small things to build your delegation muscles.)

If it is a decision of great consequence — time to use your best decision-making skills.

Next - Is it a decision of opportunity or dealing with an obstacle?

Opportunities that pop up require you to determine if the opportunity is valuable to your business or could create a greater risk than value. It might be a great opportunity that could create great value, but the timing is not right for your business. What do I mean? It could be that the energy and resources required to take advantage of the opportunity right now will jeopardize your values or existing clients/projects, team members, or your health. Deciding not to take advantage now will rarely be a bad decision, but a very strategic one.

Obstacles, on the other hand, are things getting in the way of what you are already doing — the plans you are implementing. Rarely will obstacles arise that you can just ignore. They may be small and only require a sidestep or they may be pretty big and require team participation to develop a strategy for dealing with them. Decisions may be required to delay or postpone or pivot in a different direction to achieve the goals you were headed for. Only occasionally will an obstacle cause you to totally abandon your goal — although the exercise of rethinking the value of your goal in light of the obstacles can be very enlightening and create more conviction to your goals.

So, you’ve come to the conclusion the situation requires a decision of consequence — is there a process you can use to make the best decision? There are actually many different processes people have developed but they all are aimed at helping you address a couple of basic things.

  1. Facts or data ➡️ REALITY
  2. Perception, emotional energy ➡️ DESIRE

Both of these aspects are important to good decisions, but most of us lean toward one or the other, and balancing them is what each process tries to achieve.

Using things like Pros and Cons lists, Rating Systems, other’s opinions, Rules of Thumb can each be helpful, but you should pick a process that is a bit counter to your usual way of deciding in order to open up your thinking beyond your normal way of choosing. This is especially important when there is so much uncertainty! Why? Because uncertainty is just that — UNCERTAIN. That means you are having trouble predicting what might happen. Your thinking is not fully able to comprehend the possibilities. Therefore, it is best to get way out of your normal comfort zone of decision-making techniques and really reach out to encounter different ways of thinking about the options in your path.

If you normally are a fact and data-driven person you can become paralyzed by data; often collecting and paying attention to data that doesn’t even matter for your decision. So you might try something like this:

  1. Find a trusted businessperson who knows you and your business pretty well to talk with about this decision. The more uncertainty surrounding the options and outcome means it would be best to find someone with a lot of varied experiences to draw their wisdom from.
  2. Ask them to help you define the maximum of 10 pieces of data or facts you need in order to make this decision.
  3. Ask them to help you define the 5 benefits that reasonably will be gained by this decision and rate their importance to your business on a 1-10 scale.
  4. Ask them to hold you accountable to a deadline you set by which to make the decision.
  5. Ask them – if they were you, running your business, what decision would they make and WHY? Don’t argue — just listen carefully and ask questions to clarify things you disagree with or don’t see as applicable. They do, so find out why.
  6. Go gather the facts and data from #2. Consider them in light of what your trusted businessperson said in #5. Note any new perspectives.
  7. Review the benefits you listed and rated in #3. Do they still hold?
  8. With the facts in hand — do the benefits seem reasonably attainable? Will many things outside your control be required to happen as well as your actions? (What is the likelihood that they will happen?)
  9. Make your decision and rest on it. Think about it. How do you feel about it? Good? Uncomfortable? Scared? Putting more weight on a possible but unlikely BIG win than the reality of the work and energy involved? Excited about the potential benefit and ready to get started with the work needed to ‘make it happen’? PAY ATTENTION to those feelings. Remember, this might be a great option for your business — but at a later point in time. If you internally don’t ‘buy-in’ to the decision ... you will not ‘make it happen’.
  10. ANNOUNCE your decision to anyone you need to, but most of all to your trusted businessperson so you can be accountable.

It is YOUR decision — not right or wrong — but the decision of a CEO for their business! Feel GREAT that you made it! Be proud of yourself for not getting analysis paralysis, but moving through the process well and tuning into your intuition to help you test your decision to be sure it will work.

But what if you normally use your intuition or ‘gut’ to make decisions? Again, choose a process that opens up your thinking a bit requiring you to look at the data and facts. Amazingly the above process will do that for you.

  • It requires you to organize your thoughts and consider WHAT data and facts would be useful with the help of someone who is likely good at that already.
  • Then, it requires you to rate the benefits that you are likely emotionally drawn to in order to evaluate them for their benefit to your business.
  • It gives you the structure you need. Follow the steps in order — don’t jump around.
  • As you get to the analysis of the data in steps 6, 7 & 8 — take a little time — don’t skip over these! WRITE OUT what you are thinking about each thing so you can SEE your consideration instead of just feeling it in your gut. Realize that your excitement and desire cannot change facts that are in front of you — you will have to deal with them. Let that be part of your decision making.
  • Don’t stop when you make your decision — complete steps 9 and 10 entirely! Thoughtfully. Intentionally.
  • WRITE DOWN the top 2 facts that helped you make your decision and feel really good about it. Save these in a place for reflection as the decision plays out.

🎉 Celebrate! You did a highly responsible CEO thing for your business. You made sure you weren’t ignoring facts as you made your decision. You defined things and wrote them down, so you can communicate well with the facts and details people you need to — bankers, assistants, and the techy people who help support your business! Your energy and desire will come through, but your detailed thought process will show your maturity as a businessperson!!

So, are you wondering what decision we made 3 years ago? 

We decided to go for it!  Why? No matter what we decided there were risks that would be tough to deal with. They appeared to be about equal in challenge — although there were a ton of unknowns these were just the possibilities. One of the biggest 'knowns' — we had the 'buy-in' of our team for moving forward now, and in the spring they might not be available. THAT WAS HUGE! Another known — WE were excited and ready to go, in good shape with lots of energy. And lastly a huge 'known' — our logs were straight from the mill and in the best shape they would ever be and time letting them sit before locking them in was only going to allow them to warp.

Was it easy? NO! Did we do it? YES! First log laid Nov 2. Dry-in completed Feb 2. Made the deadline! In between, we thought we were crazy setting windows on an 18-degree day, shoveling snow off the decks many mornings and buying 14 of the same bit, because they got lost in the snow when you dropped them. But there were also the gorgeous days and the bucks challenging each other (and the trees) 50 feet away that we saw almost daily! And this week we have our final inspection!  

So can you make progress in the midst of uncertainty? Yes, you can!