Before You Commit to Big Decisions

There are many different decision-making methods and algorithms. I’m not going to write about any of those in this piece.

Instead, I’m going to talk about various ways you can “test” a decision or course of action before you fully commit to it.

That’s right: the idea here is cover some useful techniques you can employ before you make a full commitment on how you’ll deal with an important situation.

This isn’t always possible, of course. In war, you can’t always “test” an offensive plan to see if it’ll prevail before you send in all the troops. In work, you can’t usually “test” to see if you want that new job you’ve been offered. In life, you can’t fully “test” to see if you want to become a spouse or a parent.

But sometimes, you can do some useful testing before you fully commit to a major effort, a life-changing decision, or an irrevocable choice.

Here are some “tests” you can make before you commit to any such big decision:


You can often do with a decision the same things you’d do in choosing a hotel or a restaurant. First, you’d scan through lots of reviews and opinions to see what reactions each of your potential choices has already triggered in a large number of people who’ve been there before you. You’d try to understand what people have loved and hated about each of your potential choices.

On this basis, you’d narrow down, maybe to just one or two attractive possibilities.

But since other people’s reactions may not reflect what your own opinion might turn out to be after your actual experience, you’d also look much deeper into the top hotel or restaurant option(s). You’d look at key details. You’d check for a good fit with your preferences and needs. You’d make sure there were no deal-breakers or potential catastrophes waiting for you if you go that way.

In many situations, you can do all this same “testing” before you commit to any kind of major effort, life-changing decision, or irrevocable choice.

And since such courses of action in real life situations are generally more subject to variations that you’d like to make than hotels or restaurants you don’t control, you can also use this process to fine-tune the actions you take and the choices you make.

Seek Opposition

I know a successful entrepreneur who objected to being the smartest person in the room, because no one ever opposed his ideas or decisions. “They just do whatever I tell them,” he complained.

Top executives often feel this way, and routinely seek out opposing points of view before they commit to a major effort, a life-changing decision, or an irrevocable choice. They recognize that listening to arguments against – as well as for – a particular course of action can be extremely valuable, if only because:

  • Opposition often points out flaws in your plans before they become unpleasant surprises,
  • Dissent deepens understanding, and causes everyone involved to dig more thoroughly into the intricacies and nuances of a decision,
  • Contradiction often leads to a wider-ranging discussion that unearths a broader context and sets the table for a better decision.

In some cases, it’s helpful for proponents and opponents to temporarily switch sides and argue against the choices they naturally prefer. It’s an exercise that helps everyone not only better understand others’ point of view, but buy in more enthusiastically to the final decision.

Prototype It

I recently asked a friend who’s learning to work in clay to make me a replica of an ancient roman dodecahedron. She said she would try, and I settled in to wait. A few weeks later, she sent me a photo of what she called her prototype.

“You mean you’re making two,” I asked her, dreading that my wait would be twice as long as it had to be.

“Yes,” she answered, and helped me recognize the wisdom of her plan.

It turns out that making a prototype – of a Roman Dodecahedron or anything else – is a great way to identify problems and opportunities, test out plans and procedures, and validate your thinking and your choices. Although my friend’s prototype will be the same size as her final dodecahedron, in many cases a prototype is preferable to going straight to a full-size effort because it can be smaller, easier to build, and quicker to yield information and guidance.

Best of all, making a prototype lets you do all this before you fully commit to your major effort, life-changing decision, or irrevocable choice.

As I said earlier, none of this has anything to do with originally coming up with how to address the situation you face or the task, project, or goal you’re trying to accomplish. But these “tests” can help you validate and even fine-tune the choices you make in your work and your life before you fully commit.

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