Decision Making: How do you do it?

I am not asking this question as the preface to a definitive how-to blog posting, but to you individually and directly:

Are you aware of the process you go through when you make your most important decisions, the ones which leave you with absolutely no regrets, no looking back?

For instance, is it a very solitary process for you, concentrating most deliberately on what you think, and what you then realize you believe, or is it important to you to bounce your gut instincts off others too? Do you write yourself through it (I do… my morning pages is a BIG part of my process) or do you talk your way through it? Do you bother documenting it at all, or visually mind-mapping it?


Photo Credit: “How’d we get here, again?”
by Margolove on Flickr

This is where I am coming from
(with the decision making question)

I have been focused on starting my 2009 by making a series of key decisions for me, for I believe that despite how painful this is for many of us, the current recession we are in has a significantly important silver lining, that of an open-mindedness to reinvention that is unprecedented in my lifetime (or my truly conscious of it lifetime).

And if you know me at all, you know that I love the prospects of creative reinvention. Most of the thought leaders I know, are open-minded contrarians.

Thus I have been systematically looking at all my systems and processes (because I am also organizationally obsessive), and challenging myself with pulling the rug out from under any automatic pilot I might be on. In my case I started with a time audit (a practice that Dwayne has coached me well in over the years I have known him), one synced with a comprehensive monthly review (just longer in scope than a Weekly Review) and then I listed all the tools I use (primarily with my productivity practices and digital software to start) so I could go down the list, and ask myself these questions in regard to every single thing listed:

As you read them, get a for-instance in your mind, such as the email program you use, the blogging platform or RSS reader you use, LinkedIn, Twitter, Flickr, whatever… just choose something.)

  1. Am I still diligently purposeful with using this tool for my original intention, or not?
  2. If yes, is this still the best possible tool or process for me (with that still-worthy intention), or am I now aware of a new one which is better, and should replace it? What are the pros and cons of sticking with this versus switching?
  3. If no, am I completely clear on how my purpose has changed? Do I need to newly explore my intentions so that my attention (and thus both my time sink and resulting results) matches up optimally?

You will recall our learning that the intention and attention match-up is very, very powerful! Ho‘ohana: Redefine the word “work” and make it yours.

For me, the key in this process is coming to clarity – working “wide awake” and conscious of how I work and making sure my why? is still valid, versus sleep-walking or going through the motions.

There is also the simple realization that our purposes do change as time goes by, and that’s okay – in fact, it probably is good: we’re learning and progressing. So… we should be sure we are not stuck in the automatic pilot of an old process that does not give us optimal results.

How can decision making help us feel?

So as I do this, fully realizing why my current decision-making process is filling me with such new energy, I want to stop for a moment and encourage you to do the same thing: Understand when you soar with making your key decisions.

It is a knowing about yourself, and how you do what you do, that is very valuable. It is valuable to you, to be fully aware of how you make your best decisions, because then you can always be sure to repeat your process. It fills you with confidence, and it is highly likely that it boosts your energy levels – it certainly does for me.

It is very valuable to the rest of us too, our knowing that you make sound decisions. This is a way that you can very easily serve us as your community of fellow human beings.

If you talk about this at work, with your team, or with your boss or peers, you can help them identify their best decision-making process too. I am sure you can imagine the win-win that could be.

Look for the gut-level results to know if your decision making process is working for you, or if you have to tweak it. You want the bold stuff in this list of bullets, not the italics:

  • When you have arrived at your decision, do you feel confident, or are you still left with questions?
  • When you have arrived at your decision, is it easy to tell others about it clearly, or are you still unsure how you would articulate it?
  • Did you start to take some concrete actions moving you forward while still within your decision-making, or did you arrive at a decision still not sure where to start?
  • If you had been documenting your process, did your excitement about the decision cause you to abandon your documentation in favor of just doing it, or are you still documenting diligently to be sure you didn’t miss something?
  • Do you feel newly energized even if it is a tough decision to take action with, or did your decision-making process leave you feeling tired and drained?

I would wager that 2009 will in some way present you with a major decision of some kind. I am no psychic, and I have no idea what that decision may turn out to be about for you, but 2009 has just shaped up to be that kind of crucible-for-many year (remember this Jim Collins quote from the other day?).

When you embark on that kind of crucible decision-making, pay attention to what your process is, realizing that there are three different parts to it: Your thinking/choosing process of decision making (which this talk-story is about), the decision itself, the execution of that decision which is more accurately called decision management.

If you have a decision making process you feel works very well for you, share more about it with us in the comments would you? Let’s learn from each other, so we all get better at it.

Postscript A bit more about this:
I believe that despite how painful this is for many of us, the current
recession we are in has a significantly important silver lining, that
of an open-mindedness to reinvention that is unprecedented in my lifetime (or my truly conscious of it lifetime).


  1. says

    I “write to think”, handwritten is better than keyboard, and use a lot of mind mapping to clarify or determine what I am missing. This applies to business and personal decision-making.
    Tough decisions are then analyzed, short vs. long-term results and risks taken into account. The idea is to take emotion out of the decision making process.
    Always sleep on a decision before implementing it.
    When asking others about possible solutions I look for their frame of reference or process, and not their final advice or recommendations.
    All decisions are not logical, in order to innovate I will also analyze the possibility of using a disruptive decision in order to mix things up, criteria here is a investigation of a “worse case” scenario…how bad could it possibly be?
    Brilliant theme, thanks for inserting this into my Sunday!

  2. says

    What a fabulously meaty comment Lee, mahalo, for I could respond to almost every line of it as I compare our best practices!
    Just as one for instance…
    I know what you mean about “handwritten is better than keyboard,” however when I am truly on a roll I write too slow and feel so clumsy. So I will draw or mind-map and flow chart instead, but usually I have a Word doc opened too for the detail I want – I am a much faster typist.

  3. says

    Forgot to mention that it helps to break out of my “normal” workspaces at times.
    The airport, coffee shop or other spaces allow me to include other stimuli and to challenge or refresh “tried and true” established patterns.

  4. says

    A good add Lee: Our environments and sense-of-place connections can be a big influence.
    I also think we can all learn from comparing how our process might change when we decide on our own, and when we are purposely trying to come to a collaborative decision – say in a team, in our work contexts, or with a mastermind group.

  5. says

    Very important differences re: group vs. individual decisions. I have genuine difficulties making collaborative decisions, much more time consuming.
    Many times the solutions/decisions must be negotiated which is an essential yet exhausting process. Always wishing the others had the same “aha” flash of understanding that led me to my decision.
    When clear hierarchies are present, much easier, facts presented and questioned, recommendations made, decision taken.
    It all gets muddier when there are no clear hierarchies and structures (also more interesting inter-peraonal and creative dynamics). Dangerous if there is a dominate personality that prevents interaction and dissent.

  6. says

    Hi Rosa – great stuff here! Like with most things in life, I view decision-making like another system (there is no wing at the Betty Ford clinic for systems thinking addicts, by the way).
    The inputs are the decision variables, including the need for making a decision in the first place and the data available.
    The throughput (or transformation process) is our decision-making process, or how we convert those variables into…
    The output (the decision itself), the outcome of our thought process.
    The feedback loop of our decision-management (follow-through on this decision as well as other related decisions) helps lead to other decisions’ inputs.
    Great discussion… I’ve always been fascinated by how people make their decisions.

  7. says

    Rosa – “I’m not entirely sure” would be the honest answer to your question.
    In my previous management job – by a mixture of listening, analysis, trusting my own judgement, calculating the time available to think/decide, then setting a clear course and working out what needed to be done to take us there.
    Life decisions are always more difficult, messy, and murky (in my experience anyway!), they take longer, seem difficult and uncertain, take a lot of agonising over, are eventually determined by… intuition.
    Not always accompanied by certainty or no regret. Would that it were so.
    But once on my way… all the other decisions about how, process, time… well they fit fairly easily into place, and I probably do them on an on-going basis (but not in the organised / documented way you describe… more as I go along)
    Does that answer any of the question?

  8. says

    Coming to a group decision will always mean a more difficult blending Lee, but that can also mean a success with reaching a collaborative decision that is all the sweeter! The kind of ‘hard work’ that feels so good when we know we have given it our very best, getting to true collaboration versus settling for cooperation or consensus.
    Ah Timothy, you are so good for the more logical affirmation of all of this! I absolutely love it when I can get good systems-thinking aligned with my more trust-in-your-gut sensibility for things. I do admit that in my case, that first bit ”“ “the need for making a decision in the first place” can largely come from pure instinct —at least urgency/priority-wise it always seems to be talking to me loudest!
    Joanna, as with my response to Timothy, I’m a big believer in one’s intuition: I am certain we have an innate wisdom for what ultimately is best for us in personal decisions most of all. I guess ultimately the question is just about if you feel you need to further explore your own process or not, and I like to explore processes like these for two main reasons: First for their self-attuned affirmation (as you know, that is part of aloha spirit-spilling for me) and second because I want to be sure I duplicate what I know works for me, encouraging the habit-forming patterns of my best behaviors.

  9. says

    Hi Rosa – intuition is every bit as part of a decision input as facts and data. Intuition is really just our experiences and knowledge stored by our subconscious, but that makes it no less important. A great decision maker will look at both facts and data AND intuition and gut. My best decisions have used both.
    This discussion is so critical at helping people dissect this very important and life-changing skill. Thanks for bringing it up.

  10. says

    Hi Rosa – What a fascinating theme to reflect on. You are receiving wonderful responses and I appreciate the opportunity to participate.
    Ideas don’t become “real” for me until I’ve written them down. I get a visual in my mind of what the end result will look like and typically need to translate it to “paper” in order to commit it to memory. I keep a business journal for daily streaming of ideas – – the bigger the decision, the more intense and fluid my writing and drawing becomes.
    I’ve always been a “big picture” person, I believe this is where most leaders excel. Connect the Dots was my favorite game to play when I was a kid. I found such joy in revealing the hidden picture, bringing it to life by simply drawing lines from one dot to the next. Today, connecting all the dots (systems thinking, collaboration and community) to create the picture (revealing the true potential in all of us) is still my favorite thing to do.
    I look at my approach to decision making as a combination of analytics and art. Balance and alignment is key – – words and images, left and right brain, the heart and the head.
    Mahalo for giving us a moment of clarity. Best/Lorraine