“For he who doubts is like a wave in the sea driven and tossed by the wind.”
The 40th President of the United States, Ronald Reagan, enjoyed telling the story of how he learnt to make firm decisions. When he was a boy, his aunt sent him to a cobbler to have a new pair of shoes made. When the shoemaker asked, “do you want a square toe or a round one?” he hemmed and hawed, so the cobbler said, “come back in a day or two and tell me what you want”. Later, the cobbler saw Reagan in the street and asked what he had decided about the shoes. “I have not made up my mind yet,” he answered. “Very well,” the cobbler said, “your shoes will be ready tomorrow.” When Reagan got the shoes, one had a round toe and the other a square toe. Reagan said, “looking at those shoes every day taught me a lesson. If you do not make your own decisions, somebody else will make them for you.” History has been kind to President Reagan. He shared the lead role in a movie with an ape (Bedtime for Bonzo) before becoming the revered leader of the most powerful nation on earth.
So there is hope for us all. If the ‘Gipper’ can do it, so can you.
And so it is with life. Every day is filled with many decisions for us to make, ranging from the simplicity of what to wear or eat that day through to the complexity of recruiting people, choosing a partner, buying a home or, in my case, just deciding which bottle of wine to uncork, a very tough choice at the best of times.
A wise man once said to me that problem solving was the key to success, that since the road to the top was filled with crossroads, those who were good at decision making would definitely prosper. This in my opinion is one of life’s truisms. Decisions have consequences, outcomes that determine what we become, and therefore form the building blocks that help shape our destiny. The more time and reflection we take in making wise choices, the more likely we are to witness the miracle of life enfold its magic wings, take us soaring high above the mundane and into the realm of the heaven.
I recently held a conversation with my assistant Cristina who is always so eager to help that the time between request and outcome often passes by in the blink of an eye. I sat down with her and discussed the fact that the gap between a question and an answer was where her freedom was, and that freedom was a great gift, one that must be often applied and cherished.
In my work life I have to make difficult decisions every day. It often feels like navigating uncharted territories without a map. Every situation is different. How does one determine what a good decision might be, especially if our destinies depended on the result? My beautiful wife Tracy believes that a good decision can only be validated in time, once the outcome has been revealed, but I disagree with that approach, a brave admission.
To me, a good decision is determined at the time it is made, and what happens later is outside of our realm of control. When making decisions, facts and figures must be analysed in depth, stakeholders’ positions respected, and core values honoured but, ultimately, it is often the peace, the voice within that helps define the choices we make.
Management gurus teach us to seek win-win outcomes, others promote the power of compromise, and the law of the jungle, the animal within, just wants to eat. I do not like compromise as this is the one outcome in which neither party gets what they want. It’s a bit like rosé wine, it is neither white nor red, just some strange shade in between. It is also a reflection of our world today. We blur the boundaries and find comfort in nothingness. We can no longer be defined by gender, we are surrounded by fake news so no longer know what or whom to believe, and political correctness has censored the spirit of truth. Solomon was right all those years ago – there is nothing really new under the sun.
In our world of coffee, it is often about which bean to buy, what machine to utilise, what recipes to manufacture. However, being the resourceful creations that we all are, we have also developed new ‘intelligent’ tools like refractometers to supersede our ‘limited’ senses. Total dissolved solids have replaced taste and flavour as we use machines to not only vindicate but to also make our choices. Intricate algorithms, mass spectrometers, charts, and sensors now tell us the quality in the cup. In older times, people used their eyes, nose, and mouth, archaic and redundant tools nowadays. The ‘perfect’ espresso has become a dot on a computer screen rather than this magical concoction that seduces the senses and sends gentle whispers from faraway lands.
There are also those who fear making decisions, that if they did not exert choice they could not be blamed for the outcomes. This cowardly approach is nothing but utter delusion as in the absence of decision, we are just like ships fighting rough seas without propulsion. In this story, the results are really never desirable. In the absence of choice, we merely turn around in circles or end up in a place we do not like. Also, choices are what promote confidence and confidence nurtures maturity. It is maturity that defines character and character that shapes destiny. Fear is nothing more than the imaginary potential of a negative outcome which is based on past failures. The only way to redress this vicious cycle always begins with another, good decision.
In my opinion, when making a tough decision, we must answer the following two questions:
1. When going through a storm, do we have a clear vision of what things look like on the other side?
2. Is the sacrifice worth the journey?
If the answer is yes, then be brave. If no, then be wise.
Life is a journey, not the destination of popular belief. Our role is not to always be right but to have the courage of our beliefs and exert it, to not be afraid to fail. It is that sense of vulnerable ownership, humble acceptance, that connects us to all those around us. We often think, wrongly, that good leaders never make mistakes of judgement. This is simply not true; they just do not advertise their failures. Real leadership is having the ability to walk with a limp and not hide it, as it is in the crucible of life that character is forged and wisdom gained. Reading books and going to movies are good forms of entertainment but life is never learnt from being a mere spectator. It must be lived.
My final point would be to encourage people to make decisions without fear of the potential outcome, to take a walk on the wild side of life. By all means, analyse and reflect, use both mind and gut, take the freedom of time to optimise outcome. But, in the end, if your choice results in a storm, you must just learn to dance in the rain.