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The Only Decision-Making Tool You'll Ever Need

Say you're presented with two choices. Both have their merits. Both have positives and negatives. Absent a clear winner, what should you do?

No, it's not these.
Always go with the hard choice.

Here are the reasons why the hard choice is almost always the best choice to make:

  • Effort is its own reward. Effort -- especially incredible effort -- rarely pays off in the short term. But without incredible effort there is almost never an incredible payoff. The hard choice usually requires the most effort and the greatest personal investment on your part. When you put in the time you learn more, grow more, and achieve more. Even if you don't hit the target you aimed for, you'll have hit a lot of other targets along the way... even some you didn't know existed. Always choose to work harder. It pays off.
  • Hard choices build reputations. Staying late to complete a project, making a tough call to a customer, dealing directly with an employee issue, biting the bullet when you make a mistake... there are always easier options in a crisis. We all admire the people who sacrifice, compromise, stand tall in the face of adversity -- do what you think is right, make the hard choice, and you become someone others will admire.
  • Luck is a terrible management strategy. Deciding to take the easy way out usually means you're hoping luck will play a part. "We'll go ahead and ship these... if we're lucky the customer will never notice the problem." (I've done that; almost anyone who has worked in manufacturing has decided to let a quality problem go in order to meet a ship date or avoid the cost of rework. Sometimes you get lucky, sometimes you don't.) While it's painful to call a customer and say, "I'm sorry, but we're going to be a day late -- we caught a quality problem and we're re-running the job," it's a lot worse to field the, "How could you ship this garbage?" call.
  • The angel is in the details. Shortcuts, high level decisions, quick fixes... each sometimes works out, but each also ensures you lose the chance to spot other problems, identify other solutions, or find different ways to improve. "Quick and easy" creates an illusion of success; effort and application -- and a willingness to do what others are not willing to do -- builds a foundation for lasting success.
  • Ethical considerations disappear. It's easy to convince yourself that a black-and-white situation is actually gray -- and gray areas are where the ethical dilemmas thrive. The right choice is often the hardest choice: Firing an employee, bypassing a less deserving but more senior employee at promotion time, admitting to a mistake you made... hard choices but also right choices. Expediency is like poison to ethics, because sometimes taking the easy way out will automatically put your ethics in danger.
Think about a tough decision you face. I bet you can list lots of easy answers... and one very difficult choice.

Bite the bullet and choose the hard choice. Maybe you won't now, but later you'll be glad you did.

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Photo courtesy flickr user MissTurner, CC 2.0