The Limits to Analysis in Better Decision Making

“Most people never pick up the phone. Most people never call and ask. And that’s what separates sometimes the people who do things from those who just dream about them. You gotta act. You gotta be willing to fail. You gotta be willing to crash and burn. With people on the phone or starting a company, if you’re afraid you’ll fail, you won’t get very far.”

— Steve Jobs

In 2014, we had finally paid off $80k in debt and we had more work than we could handle. When I added up the number of billable hours we had and the money coming in from those hours, it was clear that I couldn’t handle all the work. Still, I wasn’t able to make the jump to hire someone. There was no way I wanted to go back to the prison of debt I had just climbed out of. I was just too afraid to hire someone. I went back to my spreadsheet and did some more analysis to try to figure out if this was the right decision.

I’ve experienced many roadblocks like this in my business. Each of them severely limiting our ability to grow. And in each case, I’ve had the tendency to seek more and more information and spend more and more time analyzing that information. I’ve found that this analysis hasn’t lead to the ability to make better decisions.

In fact, if I’m honest about it, my search for more information and analysis is just an excuse to live in fear. This fear hinders action and action is the thing that is most needed to create learning. In a perfect world, I wouldn’t have to deal with fear. I would have perfect information, I could just list out all the details between two decisions, evaluate the pros and cons of each and then the decision would just present itself.

In reality, this has never worked for me. The reason is that I never actually have perfect information because I can’t tell the future. The future is unknown. I could make a decision and it could work out, or it could not. I really have no way of knowing.

In my experience, the answer to making a decision under these circumstances is changing my definition of “knowing”. The type of knowledge I’m more concerned about is less to do with knowing the future and more to do with knowing the way things work. Knowing the way things work naturally allows us to make better decisions because of our ability to see patterns and create models from the past and then apply them to current circumstances.

Taking action is what turns information into knowledge. It creates a culture of experimentation where we can quickly say, “Let’s try this idea out and see how it works.”

Back to 2014, it took me a full year to overcome my fear to hire someone to help out with our workload. My spreadsheet didn’t help make the decision. I finally just got so busy, I couldn’t function. Hiring someone and learning to manage people was the essential skillset I needed to grow my company. In hindsight, I should have made the decision to act immediately. As Steve would say, “You gotta act. You gotta be willing to fail”.

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