The Best Way to Make Huge Decisions

Last Updated Aug 1, 2011 5:50 PM EDT

Input. Feedback. Advice. Guidance. Counsel. Consensus.
Ugh.

Seeking input is natural. In fact, most of us are trained to actively solicit opinions, to bounce ideas off others, and to run ideas up proverbial flagpoles so we can harness the incredible power of a group to make awesomely incredible decisions.

That's too bad. The only person that really matters when you need to make a big decision is you.

Think about it. Which movie is more notable, "The Godfather" or "Pirates of the Caribbean"? Godfather is clearly Francis Ford Coppola's movie; certainly he received input and ideas but just as certainly he made every important (and probably every not so important) decision. "Pirates" is movie by committee -- not bad, but ultimately disposable.

Or take restaurants. Go to Le Bernardin in NYC and it's clearly Eric Ripert's restaurant. Love it or hate it, it's his restaurant -- group consensus clearly never applied.

The main power wielded by group thinking is the power of the middle ground. Groups grind away the edges and the sharp corners. After all the input and feedback and devil's advocacy, what remains is safe, secure... and similar.

If you want to be different -- if you want to achieve "different" -- the only person that matters is you. Why? Group decisions give you an out. Others can be least partly responsible. Others can be wrong. When you make the decision it's all on you: Your vision, your passion, your motivation, your sense of responsibility. You will try harder if only to prove others wrong. You will persevere if only to prove yourself right.

You will do everything possible to make it happen... because it's you.

So how do you take advantage of the only person that matters?
  1. Pick an idea. Choose something you believe in late at night but in the cold light of day hesitate to try. Or choose an idea you've been told will never work.
  2. Then seek data, not input. Input from other people is useful, but only if you see that input as data points and not opinions. Opinions carry extra weight, like the weight of credibility (he's really smart so I'm sure he's right), the weight of guilt (if it turns out he's right I'll never hear the end of it), or the weight of safety (yeah, there probably is a reason no one has tried this before...) "He thinks the price is too high by 5%," or, "She thinks that career field is shrinking," is data. May be accurate, may not be accurate... but still just data. Then ignore everything that isn't data -- opinions, warnings, cautionary tales -- because you already know all that stuff anyway.
  3. Step back and evaluate the data. Data analysis is easy when opinions and "weight" are stripped away. Make a pros and cons list. Apply sensitivities. Do the smart stuff. You know how.
  4. Decide how strongly you believe. Analysis will only take you so far, since critical thinking tends to steer decisions towards conventional wisdom. An innovative product only looks like a sure thing in hindsight. The emergence of a new industry only seems inevitable after it has emerged. At some point, someone believed when others didn't.
  5. Then decide if that someone is you.
If that someone is you, go for it. Shift careers. Go back to school. Unplug. Start a business. Sell a business. Whatever you decide to do, you'll go harder and faster and longer because the only person that really matters made the decision. You.

Related: Photo courtesy flickr user Alaskan Dude, CC 2.0
  • Jeff Haden On Twitter»

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    Jeff Haden learned much of what he knows about business from managing a 250-employee book manufacturing plant. Everything else he picked up from ghostwriting books for some of the smartest CEOs and leaders in business. He has written more than 30 non-fiction books, including four Business and Investing titles that reached #1 on Amazon's bestseller list. Follow him on Twitter at @Jeff_Haden.

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