do you make decisions? yes, we all do.
as a matter of course, everyone, everyday is faced with a series of decisions. there is a constant onslaught of decision points that interweave the fabric of our lives. it starts at the first dawn of consciousness and ends with its last flicker. the very moment we experience lucidity is the very moment we have to make a decision. think about it, what is your first reaction the moment sweet slumber is interrupted by your mobile phone’s alarm in the morning (or in my case a precocious four-year-old boy)?
that is what i thought…
the decisions do not end there, rather they compile minute after minute after minute. it is a matter of course; a condition of the human spirit; the blessed consequence of free will (or free capacity to choose depending on your theological and philosophical bent). some are minute and imperceptible; some are major and require many thought cycles: the way in which you put your clothes on juxtaposed to who you will vote for for president. even continuing to read this post is a decision you are making.
in the praxis of my professional life i have realized an idiom as intuitive as it is absurd. a decision parallax as it were. individuals often find themselves faced with the need to make a decision, yet feel that it is not permissible for them to do so. this parallax exists, not as a oxymoron, but as a distortion of apparent reality (that which presents itself as immediately true, whether actually true or not) of what a decision is.
this parallax manifests itself in the life of the average person in the united states (but certainly is not limited there) in some innocuous ways and in some very noticeable ways. no matter how repetitive a task or predictable a set of work is, there exists outliers; edge cases; exceptions. when these exceptions arise, so does the parallax—the distortion of the reality of decision making.
have you ever come across a situation at work, at home, at school, on the bus, in your car, with your family, where a decision needed to be made and you suddenly did not know if you could make the decision (or even had the right to)?
and there is the rub. it is possible to have to make a decision about whether or not you have the ability to make a decision. reality is distorted. the parallax manifests. our natural decision making ability is put on hold, waiting for an external force to allow us to move on. there is something entirely unnatural about it.
to that i offer a simple formula of how to move beyond the decision parallax and into a pragmatic course. as the saying goes, in business the only bad decision is not making one. so for those of you interested in project management, management, or want a simple way to look at decision making, i offer the following:
- the subject matter of the decision is inconsequential; when moving past the decision parallax what you need to make a decision about is not as important as you think it is. it is a factor, but not the focus. decide to put that aside for a moment and look at the decision to be made objectively.
- ask yourself, “if i do not make this decision, will my world end?” not really, but you need to evaluate the importance of making the decision at that moment. decide if you need to decide.
- if you do not need to decide at that moment, move on and put the decision off until you do.
- if you do need to decide at that moment, then resolve to decide.
- if you do need to decide ask yourself, “am i free to make this decision on my own, or does someone else need to make it?” decide to decide.
- if you are free to make the decision make it.
- if you are not free to make a decision, find out who is and have them make it.
to be clear this is not a formula for procrastination, rather quite the opposite. this is a pragmatic guideline to move beyond decision parallax and move on with your day. procrastination happens when you do not follow this guideline (or some similar process)—when you delay decisions that you can and should make and have no encumbrances.
take a moment and apply this to the project you are working on. the homework assignment you have yet to start. the color of paint you want to paint your living room.
the simple reality is that even in figuring out how to make a decision you need to make decisions. the parallax is nothing more than a false perspective that a decision to be made is stopping you from moving forward in whatever context you are in. focus on the component decisions and the big picture comes flying right back into view and the parallax fades away.