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The Gordian Knot - Decision Paralysis

Knot Image

Photo by Jonathan Borba on Unsplash

We all make decisions daily, from the time we wake up until it’s time to decide when to go to sleep at night. Making decisions can be draining, especially as they add up daily. Sure, we can do things to solve the more straightforward problems. For example, you could pull off a Steve Jobs and wear a black turtleneck with blue jeans daily. That would be one less thing you have to worry about with the wardrobe out of the way. But, unfortunately, not all problems have simple solutions.

The Gordian Knot is now known as a complex or what seems to be an unsolvable problem, originating in 333 BC. The Gordian knot was an intricate and complex Turkish knot, with no ends shown. It was foretold that whoever solved the puzzle of loosening the knot was to rule Asia. Solving the problem of the Gordian knot baffled many great minds. Many attempts assuredly failed to solve this puzzle, and many others possibly never started. At the end of this story, Alexander the Great uses his sword to slice the knot, and sure enough, goes on to conquer Asia. Only one succeeded – even if the solution was a bit unorthodox.

“All decisions cost us a certain amount of time.”

As leaders, we build and groom future leaders with opportunity leadership also known as delegation. Figuring out what to delegate as a leader is critical. Not for your own good but for building trust and figuring out who your future leaders are on your team. At any company, there are focus areas that encompass some body of work. As a leader, you can’t possibly do everything yourself, and it’s also not in your best interest to even try. Having insight into the focus area of how work could be broken up gives you an idea of how you could possibly delegate to a team member to achieve the company’s end result. Empower people and allow them an opportunity for growth.

Decision Paralysis

Choice can be a double-edged sword. I would say, for the most part, if you have a choice, you are better off than most. It’s only when choices cause the inability to act or decide that it becomes a problem.

Humans can often overanalyze decisions when presented with various choices – whether it’s creating/developing ideas, following through with a course of action, or making a call when needed. Of course, who doesn’t want to make a decision that screams “perfection”?

Overanalyzing or indecision can affect a range of things, e.g., choosing investments, choosing a tech stack, building a product, planning for the future, making a bold call in a sports game, myself posting this article.

Decision Scenario #1

You’ve been applying for jobs and started interviewing. In turn, you do great throughout the interview processes and now have a few offers on the table. Finally, you let your current job know that you plan to leave and have a few choices. They don’t want to lose you as an asset, so they will match whatever offer you’ve received and give you a promotion in the process as well.

Now you have to weigh the pros and cons for all the jobs - consisting of negotiations, family, money, benefits, flexibility, culture, and prospects of growth.

With all that said, this is an extraordinary situation to be in, and you’ve prepared for it. Unfortunately, decision paralysis could ruin this opportunity if you haven’t game-planned your expected outcomes.

Decision Scenario #2

You have an idea for an online product. You’ve done the homework on your vision, market, and audience. The next steps involve figuring out distribution, social presence, pricing, domain name, marketing, etc.

Even here, there are a ton of micro-decisions that must be made that can seem overwhelming. So having a plan and acting are the most critical aspects. Getting started is better than staying stagnant.

Decision Making

Decision-making can be very emotional. The fear of regret will have us accepting the status quo. So how can we prevent decision paralysis? With preparation and visualization of expected outcomes, we can solve a considerable amount of the fatigue it takes to make decisions. Even deciding, without preparation, what to eat and where to eat can be draining.

During my time in the military, I worked as a Staff Officer who reported to the Executive Office who supported the Commander’s intent. The Commander of the Battalion had to make decisions for hundreds of soldiers. The Commander’s Staff consisted of a team of specialists in different areas. For every mission we had, the Staff had to plan, prepare, and develop various courses of actions (COAs). Once we had a few COAs, we presented those to the Commander to decide on the approach for the mission. These courses of action had very strategic goals, action items and outlined the associated risk.

Currently, I work on a team of software engineers as a lead developer in my day-to-day profession. Software engineers are responsible for solving complicated problems using various approaches. When an engineer identifies a problem requiring team input, we start using the Decision-Making Framework, also known as DACI (“driver, approver, contributor, informed”). The DACI focuses on team-level decisions to help a team member get started on a task. It doesn’t focus on implementation details but the pros/cons of the various options. What’s important here is the task, contributors, informed members, options, and outcome. The outcome is the approved decision.

Whether you are an individual or a team, have a process, so you don’t fall into decision paralysis. By planning to the best of your ability with the facts and information that you have at the moment. Make a decision – and be okay with the results, expected or unexpected, and then be flexible enough to adjust.

“Not making a decision is the only wrong decision.”