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How To Make Difficult Decisions

business claire whittaker scaling without sacrifice the workroom May 08, 2022

By Claire Whittaker.

Not all decisions are created equal. Therefore, knowing how to make decisions is an important skill.

There are easy, complex, and emotional decisions, so I could go on…

We spend so much of our days decision making that we don't even notice most of the time; this is because our brains make decisions for us without us even realising.

So why do we spend so much time doubting ourselves?

When I was at Amazon, I noticed that they had remarkable decision-making frameworks. Over the following few paragraphs, I want to share these frameworks I learned at Amazon (and a few little bonus tips I've picked up) to come to a different conclusion.

If you struggle with decision making or constantly doubting yourself, I hope you will find these tools as helpful as I have.


Step 1: How much time to spend on a decision

Like I said at the start, not all decisions are created equal. Have you ever heard that you rush into decisions? Or maybe you're someone who likes to think things over? Both of these options are good - but not always.

It's truly making a decision; even a "poor" decision is better than not deciding because at least once you know what you're going to do, you can keep moving forward. However, some things once decided are very difficult to backtrack from and can land you in a right mess!

Enter the concept of one-way vs two-way door decisions. This door concept is perhaps my favourite Amazon-ism when it comes to decision making.

A one-way door is difficult to back out of or pivot from; as a result, this decision should be carefully considered to maximise the chance of success.

A two-way door, on the other hand, is easy to reverse. Therefore you should make two-way door decisions quickly to avoid losing momentum.

This simple classification allows you and your organisation to quickly evaluate the decisions you need to make and prioritise them accordingly.


Step 2: Understanding Leverage and Your North Star

Do you know where you are going? What is your ultimate goal for your business? What about your life?

Understanding the ultimate vision for yourself, your North Star, is essential in decision-making. This North Star is an anchor, a leading light guiding you towards the future.

As you face different decisions, you can use this anchor and think about which of your options gives you the most significant leverage towards your ultimate goal.

There are always multiple paths to get to where you're heading. Some options will catapult your forwards towards the North Star, while others only move the needle slightly. Some of the paths you face will be complex, whereas others will be more easygoing.

Understanding and doing your best to evaluate these different options to maximise your overall leverage is the aim of the game.


Step 3: What are the dogs doing?

Another great analogy I picked up from my time at Amazon is the "dogs barking" question. Dogs barking is a tool that is used in all Amazon planning meetings.

The first question is: "What dogs barking bother you?"

I know it sounds a little strange, but the question intends to get you to think about the apparent problems in your business/project/life. Next, decide which of these you most care about so you can put in place steps to resolve them.

The second question is: "What dogs NOT barking bother you?"

Perhaps one of the most insightful questions you can ask yourself about your business. This question aims to get you to voice those niggling things, the signs you see in the market but that you don't talk about, the things that make you feel "somethings not quite right here".

The dogs not barking question forces you to think deeply about what's going on without sweeping everything under the rug so that you can have those difficult conversations. This process helps you ultimately build a much stronger business.


Step 4: Focus on inputs

If you have gone through all the previous steps by this point, you should have a pretty clear idea of the pros and cons of your decision. In addition, you will have given each option the appropriate amount of time and more than likely know what you will do.


Now it's time to make a plan

Another thing that Amazon did well regarding planning and decision-making by defining KPIs (or metrics) to move the needle forward. The way they did this was simple, instead of focussing on typical outputs of successful performance, like revenue, for example, each person focused on driving inputs.

Why? Because your inputs deliver the outputs. If you want to make more sales, focus on qualifying more leads, and this shift in focus will drive the behaviours that lead to better outcomes.

Once you have decided and know the path you're going to take, spend some time thinking about what behaviours you need to adopt to maximise your chance of success. Once you know that, define a metric to help drive those behaviours. This metric makes the goal tangible and measurable.


Approach from success

I want to give you the final piece of advice when making decisions comes from Brooke Castillo.

Approach all your decisions as though everything worked out perfectly. There is no right or wrong, and all the options you have, have the potential to be incredible.

Instead of worrying about making the wrong decision, think about which option will give you the most joy. Which option do you truly want and know you will give everything to.

This positive approach will allow you to make decisions from a position of power.

It can only be a good thing when you stand in your power.


Claire Whittaker is the Founder of Artificially Intelligent Consulting (AIC) and is on a mission to empower 1000 purpose-driven entrepreneurs & agencies to scale to 7-figures without having to sacrifice everything else that makes life fun.

A systems and automation specialist, Claire never sacrifices work for fun, has a razor-sharp eye for structure, and loves nothing more than a Sunday roast and a margarita. You can find out all about her here. 



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