Decide Fast, Revert Faster

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When I was 25, I accepted a job at a local company as a software developer. I had a desk on the ground floor of a condo that served us as our headquarters, and it had reinforced windows with steel bars.

I remember spending 8 hours at my desk looking at those bars and asking myself if they were supposed to keep intruders out or employees in.

It took me a good couple of months to decide it was not for me and quit the job.

Like many other choices I made in life, if I have to find a single regret about them, it took me too long to decide.

Is it worth spending more time scrolling through Netflix’s catalog rather than picking a movie and just watching it? Unfortunately, it’s more complicated than that.

We are convinced that life is all about nailing down good decisions. We believe that our success depends on a long streak of perfect answers, just like we are playing the “Millionaire” on TV.

In reality, it’s quite the opposite.

Successful organizations don’t always win. But, they do all possible to never fail the same way twice. 

While inventing the light bulb, Thomas Edison said, “I haven’t failed – I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work”.

We fear failure, so we play safe to avoid it. Postponing decisions is the epitome of playing safe. We secretly hope that someone else will decide for us or that at some point it won’t be necessary to choose anymore. But doing so, we make problems even more prominent, and we don’t learn much.

The quality of a leader is all about decisions: making and implementing them. In addition, a decision that was not implemented is as good as a decision that was never made. 

We can mitigate the stress around decision-making with a few realizations and a manageable framework.

Most of the decisions we make are easy to revert. We think that all our decisions are final, but only a bunch of them are impossible to change once made.

In addition to that, most of the decisions we make have little to no long-term consequences.

Here is my framework for making decisions:

  • Limit time and options
  • Decide fast, revert faster
  • Keep a log

Limit time and options

Instead of spending a few hours in front of Netflix’s catalog, I quickly pick five shows I want to watch and five minutes to make a call. If I don’t have a winner by the end of the given time, I pick the first one on the list.

Limiting the scope of the decision and the time for it, I know I’ll end up watching something tonight. Will I like it? Let’s find out!

Decide fast, revert faster

As much as we believe our decisions are final commitments, the reality is that most of them are easy to revert. Yes, some are final, and those require a lot of thinking, but all the others don’t.

If I don’t like the movie I’m watching on Netflix, I stop it and watch the next one in line. No drama, no problem.

Keep a log

I keep a log of most of my decisions. I didn’t like a TV series about ghosts? I take a note, and I’ll stay away from spooky ectoplasmic shows in the future. Did I enjoy a crafty show on pottery? I’ll make sure I’ll watch the next season for sure.

The only difference between screwing around and science is writing it down.

We can afford to make bad decisions; what we can’t afford is learning nothing from them.

Published by Luca Sartoni

I lead three teams of engineers across four continents at Automattic. I love hiking, photography, and 3D printers.

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