Saturday, December 28, 2013

Three Kinds of Decisions

There are only three kinds of decisions in life.  Recognizing which of these three types you are making can help you make quicker and better decisions.  You can also help others learn to make their own choices and stay away of unproductive interference in their lives.

The first kind of decision involves selecting between two alternatives where one of clearly better than the other.  Yeah, this one is really easy.  Selecting between Starbucks and a BP station for coffee?  Easy.  Wendy’s and McDonalds for a cheeseburger.  Not a problem.  We all know what we like better and making these decisions hardly seems like a making a decision.  If you have problems making these decisions, seek professional help.

The second kind of decision is deceptively difficult for most people.  Try deciding between two equally good alternatives.  An example of this I see quite often is people trying to select their dinner entree on a restaurant’s menu.  “I can’t decide between the sea bass and the stuffed pork chops”.  Then it’s ten minutes of staring at the menu waiting for divine intervention, followed by “I’ll go last” when the waiter arrives.  Then they ask you “What should I get?”, as if you know better than they should.  The silly thing about this is that you can’t make a bad decision.  By definition you’re choosing between two good alternatives, so either one will make you happy.  When you find yourself struggling with this “between equals” decision, just pick one.  If one is really a little better or just better at that moment, your feelings will make that choice. No thought needed.  If you see someone else struggling, make them pick for themselves.  Use this type decision as a learning lesson as your children are growing up to teach them to make decisions. Explain that “good-good” is the type of decision they’re making and how useless, and stressful, thinking about it over and over will be.  This really is an easy decision, although many people turn it into a long and arduous one.  Learn to make this what it is.  Easy.

The final kind of decision is truly difficult.  Deciding between two bad, but similar alternatives. They don’t even need to be equally bad, just that each decision has a component that is really undesirable.  An example of this can be deciding to file for divorce or staying in a miserable marriage.  Filing may involve losing daily contact with your children and staying is unimaginably stressful.  But while this type of decision is difficult and deserves careful thought, you will eventually have to make a decision and live with its consequences.  You may find afterwards that the fear of your choice was much worse than its reality.  

Learn to recognize the type of decision you’re making and avoid the stress of the “good-good” scenario or interfering in other’s decisions.  Save your energy for the really hard life decisions.  And I pray they do not happen often.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Responsibility, Authority and Rewards

My approach to my career seems to have worked fairly well.  My goal all along was never to approach work any different than play.  “Do what you love and you never work a day in your life” and “it’s all about the journey, not the destination” always rang true to me.  But I also wanted to earn a respectable wage, which at first seemed at odds with enjoying work.  And it certainly can be.  I found that being the first to take risks, ones that others were unwilling to step up to, was the key.  So in my usual “keep it simple” view of things, I developed a strategy to accomplish “rewarded fun”.  The steps, in this order are, take responsibility, obtain authority and finally, achieve rewards.  I’ll explain these in more detail.

The first step is to take responsibility and this is the only part that is mostly your choice.  Volunteer to be part of a new and important project.  Put in the extra time to make it successful.  Make your team successful.  But don’t select just any project, select one that sounds like fun but is somewhat risky.  Avoid selecting the easy, low-risk project.  Taking responsibility is a lot easier than you might think.  Most people will shy away, or flat run away, from the unknown, the new and the risky.  Becoming known as the person that steps up and delivers results in the face of unknown obstacles is the key to an interesting, and ultimately rewarding, career.

The next step involves getting authority and that’s a choice other people make.  You may become team leader, a department manager or get formal authority over a business process.  You get to set priorities, select your team members and deliver more results than you can personally deliver by yourself.  You help set the culture of your team and how they interact with other functions.  What you don’t get is control, but you do gain more influence.  Accepting authority is not for everybody, and for most people only up to a certain level.  You may like leading a group of three people, but the thought of leading a group of one thousand is unacceptable. But the level of authority, which reflects the overall level of responsibility you’ve undertaken, will play a significant part in how much you’re paid.

The final step, and the one too many people want to start with, is the rewards.  You will eventually be fairly compensated for the value you bring, but that rarely happens as fast of you think it should.  Sometimes company policies restrict advancing their employees too quickly.  Or you may be in a smaller company without the resources to pay you to the level of your value.  But the rewards will come, either with your current company or another.  The important point is that the rewards come last, not first, and are earned, not handed to you.