Rules for decision making

Without rules we risk getting jerked like a puppet, simply reacting to conditions around us. Rules for behavior and communication allow us to work together more effectively, and rules can also help you make better decisions. Just as programming languages provide instructions for computers, decision-making rules become the operating logic of your company. Rather than issuing top-down, centralized mandates, providing decision-making rules will empower the people closest to the problem to decide how to proceed.

How you act and communicate with the people you work with will determine your company culture. Using rules, you can embed the actions you want into your culture. Decision rules provide a structure so you can navigate uncertainty and increase your chances of success.

Rules must be memorable and clearly explain the desired action. If you forget the rules or don’t understand them, you won’t use them. Rules work best if you use them daily, reinforcing their concepts.

Follow these eight rules to make smarter decisions and be wrong less often.

  • Rule 1. Always take the red pill. Always seek out the truth even if it contradicts the beliefs you hold. Self-deceit and ignorance can harm you.
  • Rule 2. Write to think better. Writing helps you formulate and organize your ideas into a clear and persuasive form before you act on them. You can write down more facts, ideas, and stray thoughts than you can remember at any one time, so putting your ideas in writing allows you to organize and edit them. Writing also exposes gaps in your knowledge while allowing you to see the interactive effects of ideas.
  • Rule 3. Let the best ideas win. Good ideas survive deep skepticism and intense competition. Stress-testing ideas expose their weaknesses and highlight their strengths. Innovation happens when people are encouraged to put forward their best thinking, no matter their status, power, or tenure.
  • Rule 4. Don’t trust your gut. The more complex the situation, the less you should trust your intuition, which is your brain’s attempt to make decisions based on patterns it recognizes from a lifetime of experiences. Unfortunately, our brains can’t process the level of complexity around us, and our intuition can be dangerous when detached from data and analysis.
  • Rule 5. Have fewer opinions. We are not experts on most things, so why does everyone need to have an opinion on so many issues? It’s very difficult to convince yourself of a new idea if a contradictory idea is already anchored in your thinking. We are too frequently blinded by our own opinions, but we can design decision-making processes to overcome this bias.
  • Rule 6. Make fewer decisions. Create habits and automate decisions to save time and energy. Every decision we make throughout the day requires attention and carries an opportunity cost; creating decision-making systems can make you more productive and less frazzled.
  • Rule 7. Write down your decisions. Write down and track decisions to improve your judgment over time. If you’re not evaluating your decisions, how do you know you’re making the right choices? Good outcomes are not a good indicator of a good decision.
  • Rule 8. DO IT. Following a process helps you improve the quality of your decisions. Too often we let thoughts bang around in our heads and never apply a process to structure our thinking. I created the acronym DO IT (Define Observe Imagine Test) to help me remember the steps.

Don’t get jerked like a puppet and react to conditions around you. Use decision rules to program your culture and make better decisions.


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