By Jeff Haden
Opinions. Feedback. Advice. Guidance. Counsel. Consensus!
Granted, it’s natural to look for input when we need to make decisions. And if asking for advice doesn’t come naturally, the business world trains us to actively solicit opinions, bounce ideas off other people, and run our ideas up proverbial flagpoles in order to harness the amazing brain power of the many to make awesomely incredible decisions.
Sometimes that approach works… but sometimes it’s the worst approach to take when you need to make a huge decision.
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 of the input and feedback and devil’s advocacy, what remains is safe, secure… and similar. One person making a decision enables boldness and originality — a “committee” making a decision ensures timidity and conventionality.
If you want to be different—if you want to achieve “different”—the only opinion that truly matters is yours. Group decisions give you an out. Other people can be at least partly responsible. Other people can be wrong.
When you make the decision, everything rests on you: your vision, your passion, your motivation, and your sense of responsibility. So you’ll try harder if only to prove others wrong. You’ll fight through every obstacle and roadblock, if only to prove yourself right.
You will do everything possible to make it happen.
So when you need to make a huge decision, this is how to get input and opinions—while still making sure you, and only you, make the final decision:
1. Take a “crazy” 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 opinions.
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).
“I think you’re crazy to try to open a store in that market,” is an opinion. It may be accurate or may not be accurate; either way, it’s still just an opinion.
If you value the person’s perspective, ask how he or she arrived at that opinion. Always look for the data behind the conclusion.
Otherwise ignore everything that isn’t data—warnings, cautionary tales, and well-intentioned but poorly founded advice—since you already know all those things anyway.
3. Evaluate the data.
Data analysis is easy when opinions and “weight” are stripped away.
Make a pros and cons list. Apply sensitivities. Be objective. Be smart. 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, so then…
5. … decide if that someone is you.
If you believe when others don’t–and a major portion of your belief is based on analysis and not gut feel—then go for it. Start a new initiative. End a struggling initiative. Enter a new market. Take a chance on a new product.
Go for it, knowing you’ll go harder and faster and longer because the only person that really matters made the decision.