Thursday, March 26, 2009

How to Take A Big Decision

Here are some fundaes I'd like to share with the readers (ie mostly myself) on taking big decisions in life. There is no right way to do this, and its not many a time that you have to take a big decision. Im talking about really important decisions and choices one makes like choosing a college, a career , a company , a partner and so on. Most of the following are random thoughts that come to me now and then and Ive tried to organize them below..see if you can make sense.

a) Dont over-analyze. Indians in general are the calculating and brainy sort. And engineers in particular. So we have the habit of trying to approach life decisions in a rational and logical manner. And fail miserably most of the time.
Its often best to go with intuition. In all these decisions, its possible to do only so much of analysis. Using obvious logical methods, you could probably narrow down your search to anywhere between 2-3 choices. In my experience the choice almost invariably boils down to two close ones. After elimination the obvious choices, its really dosent matter which one you choose.
The important thing is to go with the gut feel. Rational explanations are far more useful to eliminate obvious choices than to select the optimum ones. You could say with some confidence that going to College ranked #10 is better than going to a college ranked #30. But to choose between colleges ranked #10 and #15 ?? If you factor in things like location, peer group, alumni network etc.. you could take months to decide which is better. And after these months of confusion you'll still be at square one, there is no return on the time invested in making the choice. You could have chosen college #15 two months back and prepared for it , and be in much better shape. Its takes some skill to identify when its time to stop thinking and start doing.

Contrast this with the way a child makes decisions. If you hold a red and a blue shirt and ask him to choose, theres' one color he'll immediately like. Ask him why and he'll probably not be able to tell you why he likes it , or may give a random reason. But the main idea is to choose. After a point in time all that matters is whether you have a shirt or not, and not if its blue or red!

b) There is no such thing as a perfect choice, its up to you to make your choice perfect. Making the choice is just the beginning, most of the effort is in sticking with the choice and ploughing down the path you choose. Once you make a choice ,you really need to 'subjugate the self' and proceed with it . There is often a tendency to look back and wonder what would have happened if you did the other thing... But this is only going to take away precious time from proceeding with the present choice. There is this thing which people call passion, belief or faith which is much much more important than the actual choice you make.Whatever choices you choose, you have to believe that it will work out. And there need not, or should not be a rational/scientific or rational explanation to this belief, its all an intuitive process.

Wherever humans are involved, there is no such thing as a correct choice. Because, err..we all know that to err is human. And add to it the fact the human problems are a function of time and external factors. Todays problems and questions will seem insignificant tomorrow, and one meeting with a long lost friend is enough to make you want to re-evaluate your life goals. So how do you solve a question that keeps changing every now and then??
Anyway, I think I might have digressed a little here and missed the point of this point. What Im trying to say is once you take a choice, get on and just do it!
By the way here's a first(and very crude?) approximation of the human brain according to me:

c) Dont ask too many people for advice, only talk to the people who really matter. When you are making a big decision, the best feedback you can get is from someone who knows you very well as a person or someone who knows you well professionally. Asking anyone else for advice is quite useless and just adds to the confusion. In fact the more you ask many people about what to do etc, the more it means youre not sure what to do yourself. This almost always points to your lack of confidence in the decision you've taken. Perhaps you need more time to think over your decision.

d) Dont follow others peoples footsteps blindly without knowing exactly why youre doing this. This is a similar point to the prevoius one.. Till now most of the decisions we take are in reality already made. Many of us end up doing engineering , taking up jobs or going for higher studies without really deciding why. For a fortunate majority of us, there were always some seniors or some general path laid out that you could follow. Of course the path in itself is tough, but the decision to take it is already made most often in a group phemomenon. We see lots of friends taking up the path, we see society (family/friends) generally nodding in approval when we take this path and decide to follow the gang. We never get the chance to ask some important questions to ourselves before choosing such paths like :

  • Would I do the same thing if all my friends backed out tomorrow?
  • Would I do the same thing if later I fail to get the kind of response from the people who matter to me?
  • Do I consider taking this path and possibly failing to be still better than not taking this path at all?
  • Would I have any regrets later on for not having done this ?

Its not wrong if the real reason for making a choice is any of the points above, but its wrong not to be aware of it.
For example the real reason you are taking choice A may be because you want to generally please society. Thats fine as long as you know thats the reason for making choice A. But if you dont know this , and later in the future you find that choice A does not really please society, youre screwed. By then you've already walked down path A and youre probably wondering why youre finding this path so difficult. Then at this crutial time you have to do some soul searching and figure out what you actually like...Choice A or pleasing society thing. And you have to fight the inertia factor..making a choice once youve decided while on Path A is one hell of a lot tougher than making a choice in the initial stage.

e)Keep the Planning and Execution part separate. Ive come up with the following gyan on how to make a choice, plan for it and go ahead with the decision. Also I learnt how to use basic Visio features in the process.

There is a Plan and Execute phase for every choice you make. During the planning phase, you sort of weigh in all options, see which choice will lead to the most favorable outcome and make a decision. And before entering the execute phase you pray, meditate or generally pep yourself up to tackle the way your life is going to shape up in the future. And then once you enter the Ecexute phase, you forget about the result and bother about the process of achieveing whatever goals you set for yourself.

So the four stages in the 'choice making process' are shown in the diagram. Lets now see the various common ways of making a choices ... (I cant believe how much of a lecture this blog is turning out to be!)

  1. The ideal case Well this is the mose optimum way to come up with a plan and execute it well ahead in the time frame. You spend some time understanding your choices, take some time making a good plan, decouple yourself from the other plans and start executing the plan. The main point here is to ensure you enter the Execute phase only after ther Planning phase is well onver.
    Decouple?? Decoupling refers to giving up or forgetting the remaining choices that you didnt take. The little orange bar is the most crucial part in the decision making process. Personally I find that the toughest to get through. The decouple stage is the one in which you really get ready and begin to accept the choice you have taken. If you do the decoupling properly, there's no looking back on the choices from then on. This is important because its natural human tendency to start questioning tha choice, once the path taken becomes more and more tough. In some sense the orange part is where you build your resolve to focus single-mindedly on the task at hand.

  2. Heres what would happen if there is no sufficient decoupling. The choice is made and you're in the execution phase, but youre not 100% sure of the choice you made. Invarialbly there will be many a time during the execute stage when you start to question the choice you made (indicated by the numerous blue bands during the execute phase). Every time you hit a fairly big obstacle during the execute phase , you start re-evaluating your goals. This is a double whammy - you lose time trying to make new plans and you take an equal amount of time to come back to reality and get in the groove of carrying out your present unhappy choice. So by this way although you started the execute phase earlier ,you take much longer and more painful to reach the end.

  3. The third case is one which you usually make when you are younger/ inexperienced. Here you do some research, planning and decoupling but all in a limited manner. Because of the short time before execution, there is more of a chance that you didnt make the most optimum choice. But due to the decoupling , you dont bother too much about this and proceed to the execution phase. Once you finish the process, you can probably see a lot of scope for improvement. There would be some hard lessons to be learnt, and you begin to see how to make a more informend choice next time.

  4. The last one is a sad attempt at bringing some humor into this post. These are guys who are day dreamers and who dont have the balls to do anything (add appropriate metaphor for girls here). They can come up with some choices to make, but are too insecure or lazy to begin any choice in particular.

So here's to big decision making in the future!


  1. This is too long man

  2. Yes I know... got some extra josh while coming up with these fundaes.