No regrets decision making


July 22nd, 2009

I’m a bit wary of certainty. And sure, I like a bit of certainty as much as the next person. If I’m really honest, I’d let my inner control freak out and say I like being in control. That’s why my work is a constant challenge – staying open to possibility, exploring, being curious and staying engaged. I’m wary of people who have the answer – and it’s usually described as the ‘thing we’ve been waiting for’, the process or approach that is going to cut through all the complexity and mess we humans are prone to create and give us insight, or certainty, or even the ‘answer’.

I take part in a few email discussion lists. Sometimes people will ask for advice and there will be a rush of replies that basically say ‘I have the answer you need’. I don’t buy it.

So that means I’m also wary of goals, and objectives, and targets – not to mention key performance indicators and the like, but I digress. If I set a goal and focus on that, might I miss some opportunity because I’m so focused on the goal? And that is exactly what I mean by not having an answer. That question, I think, is unanswerable. In fact, I’m not really interested in the answer, it’s the dilemma that interests me. The exploration. But it’s so much easier to come up with answers, conclusions, outcomes – even if they are ultimately meaningless.

I am variously challenged and inspired by my friends Chris and Johhnie who have also written on this topic recently.

In the last week or so I’ve experienced for myself the highs and lows of certainty – or uncertainty, depending on your persepective!

My friend Brenda and her son Cameron helped me do some long overdue tinkering with my web site and email (and such nebulous entities known as servers and domains). What we expected might take a couple of hours took days – and is still underway (hence the lack of photos on my blog at the moment). When it comes to the internet I’ve found a curiousity, combined with trust in people who actually know what they are doing, invaluable. Otherwise it’s just plain frustrating.

At the other end of the spectrum was the beginning of a process to collaboratively design a conference. Doesn’t sound like a big deal really. But it provides enormous scope for sitting with uncertainty, exploring and taking some risks, and treading that uncertain terrain of outcomes versus experience. It’ll be a roller-coaster of a journey and one I’m looking forward to.

And here’s what I’ve seen as a symptom of this need for certainty – the inability to make a decision. So wary are we of making the ‘wrong’ decision, we make no decisions at all. Even small decisions. It means we remain in a holding pattern of uncertainty. So instead of finding the uncertainty something to inspire us, we wallow in it. A farmer once described to me his philosophy around decision making – at a time when his decisions could be the difference between being in business or looking for a new job. He called it ‘no regrets decision making’. Nice.

BTW, Barry Schwartz has spoken about the paradox of choice in this TED talk. Well worth a look.

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