How To Make Great Decisions

Step 1: Everything Is An Experiment


One of the most difficult skills for anyone to get their head around, let alone master, is solid decision making. But it's one of the key elements for success in any pursuit. Some skills you can fake, like leadership (not kidding, you can fake this all the way up to the end). Others you can farm out, like coding.

Decision making? You've got to have it, and you've got to be good at it. No, you've got to be great at it. It's one of the few metrics that directly correlates to success, where you can look back on your decisions and, to dumb it down completely, if you made nine good decisions out of 10, you're probably at 90% of where you want to be.

Probably. There are caveats to everything.

The problem is there's no good way to learn, practice, or measure the process of making good decisions. It's not something you can read in a book to learn (uh-oh), complete a series of exercises or quizzes to practice, and there's no scale by which you can quantitatively measure the results.

Although I could create that. The Procopio Decision Matrix. You got a Q out of 13! I'm calling the patent on that right now.

In all seriousness, the most difficult part of decision making is being honest with the criteria and honest with the post-mortem. We rarely tell the truth to ourselves and about ourselves at either end. No one likes to admit that fear and emotion play a huge part in the criteria, and no one likes to dwell on their failures. It's not even healthy to do that.

Then there's the question of what makes a good decision a good decision in the first place. There are all kinds of conventional philosophical cautionary tales here -- “Damned if you do, damned if you don't,” “Rock and a hard place,” “Should I stay or should I go,” and “If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.”

If that last one sounds vaguely familiar, it's because it's the only discernable or memorable lyric from Rush's Freewill, and it's probably copped from Ayn Rand or Camus or something very deep and intellectual.

But take a breath. It's not as convoluted as it sounds. There are maybe five or six steps to consider when you want to make good decisions. Those include identifying and mitigating all the little risks, defining success and failure and at which point you should throw in the towel, and learning to live with and recover from failure.

However, the first step is by far the most important. It's also how you get started, so I want to focus directly on that.

Everything Is An Experiment

Over the last week I released the second volume of It's All Nonsense. Writing the book and the commentary was fun, listening to and acting on the feedback was fun, putting it in eBook format and testing all that out was fun.

Here's what was a total pain in the ass and I hated: Creating the stupid newsletter copy for the release, figuring out how much my stupid drivel was worth, writing the stupid press material that I was pretty sure wasn't going to be read by any press person, awkwardly hyping the book on social media, and begging my friends to help me publicize it.

So whatever, the last two weeks have been pretty much suck city. But the book is out there and it's selling well. I did it.

I got there by committing to myself that every decision I had to make about promotion was all a part of a great experiment.

Hell, the books themselves are an experiment. Each piece in the book is an experiment. This very post is an experiment. This following sentence is an experiment. I don't have any assurance if the things I'm doing are the right things to do or the smart things to do or what kind of return I'm going to get on the intellectual and relationship and financial capital being spent.

Literally, the best advice I've gotten is: “I think if you do this it'll work. Probably not directly, but it should pay off at some point. I don't know how.”

And that's from the smartest person I know at this.

My point is that if you're doing something worth doing and new and cool and entrepreneurial, there is rarely any hard evidence to map out the steps on your path to success. You're going to have to flail and stumble blindly in the dark and that's going to be uncomfortable.

The caveat is I don't do the books at all. Or I do them and visit my author page every few days to marvel at how cool the cover looks while I count those three sales I made last year over and over again.

Fail Often and Fail Quickly

Everyone says fail often and fail quickly. I totally believe in that. It's a great way to talk about experimentation in a quick sound bite that not only makes you seem savvy, but also scares away anyone who thinks that it's a cakewalk to get your idea out the door.

The fail often part breaks down into two components.

One: You should always be willing to try something. In the book example, the bridges I burn are bridges that weren't going to work for me anyway, and the financial implications are irrelevant. It costs time I have (barely) and I'm doing eBooks, so the dollar cost is next to nothing -- just promotion, and I haven't even started running ads yet because I don't have all of the decision-making steps there completed.

Two: If you're looking at the decision as a road to take, you need to have routes off that road that you can use to go around the roadblocks. I've changed my book plan probably a dozen times since the idea was first handed to me by someone I trust. And honestly, if the whole plan proves out to be nonsense (wink), I will abandon it and find another way. Even though I'm giving the book plan 110%, I'm not married to the idea if books don't sell.

The second part, failing quickly, is relative.

I've said before that you should take about six weeks to fully vet an idea or a plan before bailing on it. There are lifelines however, little pings of success that might keep you going for months as long as you tweak and enhance and pivot off that original plan.

Example: Creating content is a plan. Selling books is a sub-plan. Selling books independently is a further sub-plan. Then selling eBooks, then selling through Amazon, then using Kindle Select, and so on.

These things take time. But they also take resources, money, opportunity cost, bridge burning, and so on. So months, yes. Years? Hell no.

But you've got to try. Again, everyone says fail often and fail quickly. No one ever tells you how to get that failure up and running. That's up to you and you have to start somewhere.