Good Decision, Bad Decision, No Decision.

Over the six-plus years I’ve been writing this blog I’ve quoted some of the best business thinkers of our age. I’ve drawn on their wisdom, their experience and their recipes for success. And without exception, there’s been one thing they’ve all agreed on.

Action.

Especially in your decision making.

As that deep-thinking business guru Tony Soprano put it, A wrong decision is better than indecision.

You can correct a wrong decision. You can put it right and move on. Indecision? You haven’t a hope. Paralysis by analysis as the old saying goes.

The late (we think) and much missed Tony is supported by any number of real life businessmen. Here’s Scott McNealy, the co-founder of Sun Microsystems:

The best decision is the right decision. The next best decision is the wrong decision. The worst decision is no decision.

…And Anthony Robbins, Awakening the Giant Within:

At any moment the decision you make can change the course of your life forever.

Obviously, I agree with them. It’s what I’ve preached for years. Nothing happens without action. Soprano, McNealy, Robbins, Reid – united as one.

…And apparently, completely wrong.

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Along comes business psychologist, Professor Adam Grant. He sets out his thesis in Originals: How Non-Conformists Change the World.

Grant says that procrastinating – putting off difficult decisions or delaying starting a project – can actually open an entrepreneur’s mind to more creative thinking and “lead to a more opportune time to launch a new product. Procrastination lets you have time for ideas to percolate … and new technologies to emerge.”

I’ll absolutely concede that non-conformists see the world differently. Yes, I agree that giving yourself time to think, keeping an open mind and asking the right questions are all important. But you cannot wait for ever. As Norman Schwarzkopf says in his autobiography, It Doesn’t Take a Hero, “when you’re placed in command, take charge.”

Ask most of my generation who’s ‘changed the world’ the most and I’d guess that a good percentage would say Steve Jobs. Now no-one would call Jobs a conformist (especially if you’ve seen the biopic…) but he emphatically didn’t change the world by not making decisions.

And, clearly, he didn’t wait for new technologies to emerge. You simply cannot do that today. We’re now living in an age where a ‘new technology’ emerges every week. If you put off making decisions because you’re waiting to see what happens with technology you’ll sit at your desk until it’s time to retire, watching an endless stream of new apps whizz past you.

There are almost as many different ways of being successful as there are successful entrepreneurs. That’s one of the great beauties of business. But I simply don’t believe that avoiding decisions is one of them. It may be superficially attractive – and it’s certainly easy. But it’s also potentially fatal for your business.

Fortunately, there’s an antidote – to both the wrong decision and no decision.

I refer to TAB members round the boardroom table. They’ll do two things: firstly their collective wisdom and experience will go a long way towards helping you make the right decision. Secondly they have this really irritating habit of holding you to account – of saying, ‘So what’s happened in the last month?’

‘Nothing’ isn’t really the answer they’re looking for. But to date no-one has tried, ‘I’ve been sitting at my desk waiting for new technology to emerge.’ I’ll look forward to that one. The replies should be spectacular…

 

Time to Dump the Hairdryer?

Anyone who’s ever watched a game of football will have heard of ‘the hairdryer’ – the phrase coined by Mark Hughes to describe the dressing room rages of former Manchester United manger, Sir Alex Ferguson.

As Wayne Rooney said in his book, ‘My Decade,’ There’s nothing worse than getting the hairdryer. The manager stands in the middle of the room and loses it at me. He gets right up in my face and shouts. It feels like I’ve put my head in front of a BaByliss Turbo Power 2200 … It’s hard for me to take and sometime I shout back. I tell him he’s wrong and I’m right.

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Well, let me have a pound on who won that particular argument – but top marks to Wazza for getting the product endorsement in there…

So why am I writing about football in England when I’m still out here in Denver? Especially when the Broncos have started their pre-season games and anyone with any sense is atSports Authority Field

Simply because a day old copy of the Times reached me, that’s why. And once I’d read about Newcastle’s latest victory and inevitable return to the top flight (being in the USA breeds confidence…) I turned my attention to an article by Matthew Syed.

I’ve written previously about Syed’s book Bounce – the Myth of Talent and the Power of Practice. I didn’t agree with the central thesis of that book, so as I started to read his article in the Times I was getting ready to take the opposite view again.

But I think he was spot-on: and I think there are valuable business lessons in what he had to say.

The title of Syed’s article was, ‘Why a manager’s touchline rantings could be doing more harm than good.’ He’s writing about conventional wisdom and yes, the accepted wisdom is that football managers have to rant – and get the hairdryer out. ‘What’s he doing? We’re two down and he’s just sitting in his seat!’ ‘Well, whatever he said at half-time has certainly worked. They’re a different team in this half…’

But all the evidence shows that ranting from the sidelines doesn’t work. Syed cites children’s sport – where the coach often barks a stream of instructions, ‘despite the empirical finding that this undermines the ability of [the] children to think for themselves and slows learning.’

According to Syed, the conventional wisdom in football is almost all wrong – and he contrasts it with Formula One, a sport which – in the words of Paddy Lowe, Mercedes technical director – there is no conventional wisdom and “standing still is tantamount to extinction.”

Like football, business is riddled with conventional thinking and accepted practices. Why are we doing it this way? Because we’ve always done it this way.

I’ve been so busy in Denver that I’ve had to push my ‘key things I’ve learned’ post back to next week. But there’s been one theme running through every conversation I’ve had and every presentation I’ve attended: with the business world constantly changing, ‘because we’ve always done it this way’ is just about the most dangerous belief there is.

Out here in Denver you can almost feel the ‘wind of change’ blowing from Silicon Valley. The Denver/Boulder region has even been talked of as the next Silicon Valley. There’s a palpable start-up buzz in the air and no business will be able to rely on ‘we’ve always done it this way.’

Matthew Syed ends his article with a compelling phrase; ‘It is innovation, not convention, that holds the key to success.’

He’s absolutely right. ‘If you always do what you’ve always done…’ is more true than it’s ever been. And now it appears that the result will be the same if you always do what everyone else has done as well.

Two words are on everyone’s lips in Denver: ‘Why not?’

Why can’t it be done a different way, a better way?

Whether it’s sport or business the old beliefs and the accepted wisdom are being challenged and rejected. So don’t be afraid to ask yourself ‘why not’ over the coming months – and expect the phrase to echo round the TAB York boardroom tables.