executive management Difficult Choices: Not Easier but Quicker Using Quantum Physics and Coin Flips
By Peter Meyer
Published in Medium, April 2017
Difficult choices are, well they're supposed to be difficult. If you're running a business you aren't here to make easy decisions are you? But that doesn't mean that they should take a long time. I see many difficult calls in my work, and there is a pattern to making good choices in less time. This article quickly explores that with some practical recommendations. And yes it uses both common sense and quantum physics.
The Career Choice
Steve sat down with Jane, a top producer on his team. Jane and her team have been generating great results for several years. Now she's being recruited to better positions inside the company. Jane came to Steve to get advice on a difficult choice between two very good and very different offers. (This is a real case. The names are changed.)
Option one is to manage a new team. Jane would be well compensated both financially and intellectually. This involves a relocation to Dallas and she can manage that.
Option two is to save a failing team in Cleveland. The challenge would be intense, exactly the sort of thing at which Jane excels. The dollars are a bit better than Dallas.
Jane has two excellent and very different options. You probably recognize this, a selection where your choices are very different and neither seems much better or worse than the other.
The Start Matters
If you start with the two jobs, you can do a long Ben Franklin list and you still wind up with no obvious answer. Steve made the obvious observation: Jane can handle either of these. That is what she does. It is she, not the jobs, that is the key. Doesn't that make Jane the right place to start the conversation instead of the two jobs?
Now, instead of an analysis, Steve puts a coin on the desk and slides it over to Jane. She nods and flips it into the air, calling "Heads it's Dallas."
Before you write to me about being frivolous, think about this for a moment. As the coin floats over the desk Jane will either make a gut decision or not. She's self-aware enough to know that if she suddenly feels the urge to take Dallas the coin doesn't matter. It was just a tool for her to understand what she really wants to do.
If she doesn't feel that intuitive decision, Jane can watch the coin land and take whichever job appears. This works because Steve has helped her understand that it's not the job, it's Jane. Success happens because Jane is good at this. Jane, not the Ben Franklin list, is the key.
It's About Physics
OK, now to quantum physics. Please stay with me for a moment. When we have a difficult choice, we are tempted to look at the decision the way that it is right now. In this example, Dallas has some characteristics. Cleveland has others. What neither job has is the key component: Jane.
When Jane gets to her new job, it will change because she shows up. Just by showing up, just by observing, the competent manager changes the equation.
You may not fully understand quantum physics, and even if you do I don't. However, a key and simple principle is that you change an experiment by looking at it. In physics it's often called the "observer effect." (This isn't something I invented. You can and should look this up.)
When Jane arrives at her new job and engages, everything will change. Her showing up makes the Ben Franklin chart obsolete.
Overthinking is Not Managing
Spending a lot of time on the details of the jobs is focusing on the wrong start, you are missing a key component. Adding a good individual to the equation is likely to make much of that focus time irrelevant. Yes, we want to work with what we know, and analyze from there. Unfortunately, that quickly leads to overthinking.
In Jane's case, there is tremendous opportunity to study Cleveland and Dallas, but will that make the difference? Or does it make more sense to flip that coin, choose, and then drive to make things work better in the new city?
In other words, what Jane does after the decision is what makes it right. She can make either choice, and then it is up to her to put her best self into making it right. The individual, not the job, is the key factor.
Can You Speed the Difficult Choice With a Coin Flip?
Can you flip a coin for many difficult decisions? Yes. Success comes from you taking action and driving your choice to success. It isn't about what you are deciding. It is about you making it better by going there. Your presence is what makes the difference. Don't overthink. Do move in to make change.
Today, the coin lands. Jane nods and Steve sends a note to let the new manager know that he better be ready to support Jane because she is coming and things are going to change.
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Difficult Choices: Not Easier but Quicker Using Quantum Physics and Coin Flips