The fork in the road

fork in the roadMy son just spent weeks, months even, agonizing over his college choice. Even after he finally came to a decision, he still agonized. Had he made the right decision? When I checked in with him the next day (ready to cancel my deposit and put it on the other school if he had any regrets), his resolution had become firm. I’m good, Mom. I had second thoughts at first, but I’m good now.

It turns out that a call to his dad had given him the assurance he needed to move forward confidently. To paraphrase his paraphrase, his dad told him that  now that he had made a decision, it was by nature the right one. He shouldn’t second guess it; now it’s all about making it happen. I puzzled over that a bit, but I was glad it had helped.

Fast forward a couple of days, and the daily sayings calendar on my desk greeted me with “Decide what you want. Do that.”

Suddenly it all came together for me. Whatever the issue, too often we wait until we “figure it out.” That’s usually a cleverly disguised moniker we use as we wait–hope–for some kind of sign. We want someone, something to give us the answer, or we think that we’ll have some magical epiphany that will lead us in the “right” direction. Instead, we need to just decide, then do.

What if I make the wrong decision, you ask? What will I do then?

That’s easy. Just decide to do something different. Then do it. You’ll have plenty of time, now that you’ve given up all the hours, days, weeks, months, YEARS you used to spend vacillating between your choices.

I hope I can effectively convey this concept to my kids. Don’t wait to figure it out. Pick your direction and forge your path. You’ll get farther faster, build your confidence, and learn a lot along the way. And since you’re already forging a path, you can build it in any direction you want.

So when you come to a fork in the road, take it. Maybe Yogi Berra knew what he was talking about after all.

I know where you sit

exterior-south-side-010913My company is building a beautiful new headquarters, and I’m lucky enough to play a significant role in it. I have the pleasure–and it really is a pleasure–of overseeing the furniture, fabrics, fixtures, and finishes for all things interior. Over the past several months, I’ve learned more about office systems, upholstery, paint, veneer, laminate, and seat pans than I even knew existed. And I’ve had fun doing it.

Every now and then, I’ll stop dead in my tracks. I’m responsible for the interior of this impressive new building. Me. Moi. Yours truly. The realization always takes me by surprise, and it humbles me. That’s a lot of responsibility.

Of course, I’m working with an interior designer, as well as some very capable (and talented) vendors. I’m not flying solo here. Nonetheless, one principle has tempered every decision I’ve made. When I make  a choice at odds with the suggestion of our interior designer, I tell her this:

No one will remember your name when this is all over, but EVERYONE will know where I sit.

Anyone who fosters a gripe about the comfort and aesthetics of the new building’s interior will quickly and easily find his way to my office. My involvement in this process has been no secret, nor should it be. Because of that, I constantly have to balance what suits my own taste with what is appropriate for the company, what best serves the most people, what makes the most financial sense, what will stand the test of time, and what will be most widely accepted. I can’t simply disappear when the project is complete; I will carry the responsibility for my decisions for a long time.

As this project draws to a close in the next few months, I realize that this lesson is far more important than anything I’ve learned about paint or furniture. No matter what I do, I can’t (or shouldn’t) make decisions in a vacuum. Someone will always know where I sit.

That changes everything.

Blind sight

194/365 - Don't walkDriving to work one day last week, I found myself in one of my pet peeve situations. I was stuck behind a tractor-trailer rig, navigating through a small town. Beyond the general annoyance of not being able to see the horizon, this issue takes real meaning at stop lights. Simply put, I can’t see around or over the rig in front of me to see the traffic light. To get a full view, I would need to put at least a half block of distance between the truck and me.

Without realizing it, I’ve adopted a new decision-making process for this scenario: I look at the crosswalk signs. If they’re green/white and say “Walk,” I’m good to go; the traffic light is green. If they’re blinking, the light is green but scheduled to change soon. I need to proceed with caution. Of course, if they are solid red and say “Don’t Walk,” the traffic light is yellow or red. Time to stop.

Okay, so that’s probably no big revelation. I’ve done that for years, and probably so have you. What finally hit me last week, though, was the metaphor in this. So often I feel as if I don’t have a clear picture of what’s in front of me. I don’t have enough information to make an informed decision. While that may be true on the surface, I should be able to gather a lot of data by looking around. What’s off to the side? What other signals are available to me? I may not have perfect information, but clues are everywhere.

We make decisions every day without perfect information, simply based on the conditions around us. That’s life, so we might as well get better at finding those clues.

Little bites

I know a guy who is really, really good at what he does. He maintains a terrific big picture view while still understanding the details which can make or break the success of his projects. He’s a deep thinker, and when I ask him a question about his realm of influence, I know I’m going to get a thorough and thoughtful answer. Everyone needs a guy like this on her team.

Sometimes, though, this guy becomes his own biggest obstacle. When he has an idea, his mind is off and running. He has gone through steps J, K, and L before most people get beyond A, B, and C. He’s busy solving problems that haven’t yet occurred and probably won’t occur until somewhere down the timeline–by which point a lot of variables could change. He often hesitates to pull the trigger on a project until he can work out the answers to those problems.

Many times, that’s exactly the right approach–but many times it’s not.

Not every project is an all-or-nothing proposition. We don’t have to go from A to Z in a single step. We can launch our project or product and service before we get to Z if

  • The new solution is better than what came before it, i.e. it makes people happy.
  • Each step is a (fairly) natural progression, not a complete rework of the one before it.
  • Showing continued improvements or making updates signals progress/activity/forward motion.

Think of a website, for example. Little improvements over time can actually be a positive thing. It keeps your audience feeling as though your work is fresh, the content is dynamic, and there’s always a new reason to visit. That’s not a place where you want to publish a TA-DA! product and sit back. Yeah, I know, building the infrastructure requires a fairly specific vision for the future, but once the infrastructure is in place, you can always make improvements along the way. The trick is understanding when to forge ahead and when to wait.

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.