Deciding To Decide

Paul Heagen Uncategorized Leave a Comment

It was Decision Time.

I’ve had this nice direct-drive turntable for years, nestled in a box in my basement, right next to my carefully preserved museum of vinyl record albums.

It was time to get rid of the turntable, maybe sell it on eBay or craigslist to some gray-haired audiophile who believes (as many do) that music on vinyl sounds warmer and richer than its digital generation.

Except I kept putting it off. For a year now.

It was illogical. I don’t even have a stereo system anymore. Most of the time I listen to music on iPads and iPods with miniaturized speakers or ear buds. Oh, I thought just maybe I might want to have it around to take one of those old Moody Blues albums out for a spin. Been saying that for quite a while.

So, I dug the turntable out of the box but shuttled it all over the house – on counters, on tables, even on the dining room floor – but never moving it out the door, as if there were transparent rubber bands attached to it and my psyche. Finally, I sent a note to a neighbor who appreciates the sublimity of vinyl records, and he gladly picked it up (leaving a nice California cabernet in his wake). I was relieved. It was the right decision. Just took me forever to make it.

Why deciding can be so hard

So, why do we take so long to make decisions that are so obvious? Why do we fend off practicality and logic to the point where avoidance takes on a life (and distorted reasoning) of its own?

I see this in business more than we care to admit. I recently talked with a senior executive who was exasperated that aCEO kept stalling on a decision even though the executive team had put one compelling, rational business case after another in front of him to support the decision. Stop making the business case, I told him. That’s probably not why he’s not making the decision.

What is the reason? I don’t know, but more likely it has something to do with…


I can’t believe that succession candidate I recruited is not working out. It’s hard to accept that the acquisition we made just two years ago is falling short, or that product launch fell flat. I want to believe the best even though the worst is overtaking it. We hope, we dither, we rationalize our delay as if there is some bit of data floating out there that would change the reality.

It happens to the best of us, especially when it’s personal, when our sense of self is at stake.

We get caught in this trap when we tangle the decision itself with the difficulty of making it. I advise clients all the time to step ahead of what they see today and get a clear picture of what it would be like if the decision was made. Roll it around, feel it, see it, imagine it. Then back up from there and you will feel a lot more energy around the difficulties that once seemed to block your view. It not only focuses your energy, but it has the ineffable effect of unleashing the energy of the people around you who have been waiting for some kind of decision to be made.

It’s when we make decisions amid our anxieties, uncertainties and even personal turmoil that we understand that clarity is ours to create, not just to be sought.

If we hold off decisions until there is no other choice, we are not leading.

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