Simplifying Complex Decisions: What First, Then How

When it comes to being decisive, mastery of making the complex simple comes in handy.

Essential questions

I was just in a meeting where an executive, who needed a decision from the CEO, made a presentation about an important project to test a new service line for customers.

The presentation was so detailed that it took a lot of brain power, for those of us in the room, to understand all the dynamics of what was required.

I felt for the executive, who was passionate about the project, but there was too much detail and no context of the importance to, and impact on, the business.  They “lost the room” and weren’t getting buy-in.

So, we took a break to talk about what really mattered and were able to boil it down to two questions, which we asked the executive to answer the following day.

“I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.”

– Blaise Pascal

Stuck in the Weeds

You can’t make smart, perceptive and strategic decisions when you’re stuck in the granular weeds of an issue – when you are so deeply focused on the nuances and all the ideas of how to execute something.

Many incredibly smart and capable people make decisions more complicated than they need to be.

But major decisions don’t need to be complicated if you go to 30,000 feet, and focus on the ‘what‘ rather than the ‘how’.

Think of planning a vacation. The most important ‘what’ decision is where you want to go. Then the ‘how’ details can be worked out: how to get there, where to stay, how to get around, if you have cell phone coverage, what to pack…

Separate Exercises

Once the executive returned the following day to answer our ‘what’ questions, we quickly made a decision, knowing all the tactical ‘how’s’ could be figured out and reviewed later.

Another client was challenged with a decision to keep or cease working with a long-term partner of the business.

While there were complex dynamics of the relationships and contractual terms to sort out, there was only one question to answer first: Based on everything we know, would we like to cancel the contract with this vendor or renew it?

Only then could we do the separate exercise of debating and thinking through the high-level pieces about how to do that.

The Challenge

    • What lingering decision, in your organization, might be easier to make if you just focused on ‘what’?

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