Long before Ronald Reagan became president—Ronald Reagan, the actor?!—he was making movies in Hollywood for Warner Bros. Like literally, the Warner brothers. Later in life, he would recall in one of his more famous quips, that Harry,
Albert and Jack didn’t want those movies perfect.
“They wanted them,” Reagan said, “Thursday.”
Ah, the eternal struggle between the mutually exclusive. Republican vs. Democrat. Android vs. IOS. Fahrenheit vs. Celsius. Ginger vs. Mary Ann.
Right vs. right now.
“It’s true hard work never killed anybody, but I figure, why take the chance?” was another Reaganism, but this was more tongue-in-cheek than matter-of-fact. It’s reasonable to assume that effectiveness correlates to effort, because, duh, it does. You reap what you sow, you get out what you put in, etc., etc., etc., yada, yada, yada.
But only to a point.
Then the law of diminishing returns crashes the party and drops a king-sized Snickers in the pool. And of course, as everyone knows (or Googled it 10 seconds ago), the law of diminishing returns states that at some point in any process, inputs exceed outputs. Think of the classic learning curve, how it arcs obtusely at first, like a basketball shot out of a phone booth, only to become more and more acute, and then flat-lining, like a basketball shot out of a mailbox.
And let’s face it. Those Warner boys could have poached Frank Capra from Columbia Pictures and Jean Harlow from the graveyard, but Cowboy from Brooklyn and Girls on Probation weren’t taking home any Oscars.
That being said, and the law being the law, were Reagan’s bosses right? When exactly should you stop fiddling with that investor deck? When should you stop rehearsing your presentation? When should you stop tinkering with the math on that new slot machine or the layout design of that new game?
And do you know what depends on your knowing what it depends on? Your worth as an executive. Yup. It’s right up there with seeing the future before anyone else does, or finding hidden value in an asset, or marshaling the power of your employees.
Because. Business. Moves. Too. Fast. To. Waste. Time. But it’s also too competitive, too dynamic to reward mediocrity.
There’s the rub. (There’s the rub.)
Here are a few hints to rub those vacillations and make them convictions, to turn those ummms and hmmms into yeas or nays:
Whistle While You Work
The first rule of decision-making is to—wait for it—make a decision. No tabling. No deferring. No kicking the can down the road. Just blow the whistle and make the damn call.
Take it from author and perennial hairdo-of-the-year candidate Malcolm Gladwell, who posits in his book Blink that our initial two-second judgments are more accurate, on average, than those that come about from protracted deliberation. Thinking longer does not guarantee thinking better.
Trust your gut.
In Let it Ride, one of the more watchable films ever made about gambling, Richard Dreyfuss plays a horse bettor having, as he says repeatedly to anyone that will listen, “a very good day.” In one race, to keep his lucky streak alive, Dreyfuss canvasses the track-fleas for their bets, knowing full well they couldn’t pick the winner if they had tomorrow’s newspaper in front of them. One by one they tell him their horse, and one by one Dreyfuss scratches them off the form until, by process of elimination, there is one stallion standing.
Which of course goes on to win.
The second rule of decision-making is when everyone agrees, be afraid. Be very afraid. If you look back over your career, over the good decisions and the bad, you’ll find that many times, the disastrous was preceded by the consensus. “If everyone is thinking alike,” George Patton said, “then nobody is thinking.”
Not Created Equal
Blackjack is a game of skill, in that your decisions affect the outcome. As such, there are good blackjack players and mediocre blackjack players and horrible blackjack players. What makes them one or the other comes down to their adherence to “the book,” also known as basic strategy.
But in blackjack, some decisions matter more than others. Got an 11 vs. a 9? Doubling down is far and away the best move. But you got a 12 against a 4? Meh. Hit or stand, who cares? The mathematical return is nearly identical.
Same goes for business.
The third rule of decision-making is to know the big ones from the little ones, the material from the immaterial, the whales from the guppies. And most of what swims by your office on a daily basis is a school of guppies. Dismiss them with dispatch. Your instincts (see Rule No. 1) are probably right.
The fourth rule of decision-making is to sell like hell. Once you’ve made a call, particularly an unexpected or controversial call, you’ve got to win over the hearts and minds of everyone, from those indifferent to what you’ve done to those aghast at it.
Find the biggest doubters in the company and take them head on. Don’t hide behind your desk and your title and your email address. Get out there, face-to-face, and turn those potential adversaries into proselytizing advocates. Tell them how their opposition sharpened your thinking. Tell them how your decision was actually predicated on your confidence in their ability to execute on something so bold.
Tell them whatever, but tell them this is the way you are going and you need their help to get there.
And never, never, never waver. The consistence of your convictions, like a wrecking ball hitting the side of a building, will eventually lay waste to even the strongest resistance.