Winston Churchill


It takes guts to make imperfect decisions

Every day we make decisions that impact our future. Every day we decide on pricing, product, sales strategy, hiring and because it’s an imperfect world we never have enough information.

When you’re building a company you have to get very comfortable with making decisions on partial information. There is never enough time to assemble all the facts, and if you wait for them you’ll fail anyway because the opportunity will pass you by.

Think about product design. When you’re creating a new market and growing fast you can’t take the time to survey the market, ask users what they want and then carefully design your product in response! Quite the contrary – you need to have a vision, a theory of what users want, build it and watch how they react. Do A/B testing to see which approach is better. Make changes very quickly as you figure it out. Listen to customers problems but don’t let them prescribe the solution.

Consider choosing a job. You never know enough, or everything, about a job until you’re in it. You can try to find out, but if you are too pedantic and careful about collecting information chances are you’ll turn off the very manager and company you want to work for, or you’ll miss the window for the job. Your job will probably dominate the majority of your waking hours – you need to fall in love and that’s not an analytical process. It’s a gut process.

And how about sales strategy! Sales campaigns are always under time pressure. A sale delayed is a sale lost (as one of my sales mentors used to tell me). So you can take an afternoon with the team at the white board thrashing through all the intelligence you have from your coaches but in the end you have to decide on a strategy with partial information and then be ready to course correct if you have to. When millions of dollars are on the line that takes balls.

But being able to make good decisions, where the majority are right, from incomplete information will change your future. As Pythagoras said “Choices are the hinges of destiny”. When you are courageous and make the decision with imperfect information you mold your destiny. So take a deep breath, embrace your imperfect information, and decide!

Career Advice

Have courage in how you speak

A lot has been said about the big signs of courage from Abraham Lincoln to Martin Luther King to Andrew Jackson but it also shows up in small ways in the office. Every day, in every meeting, courage shows up when people speak.

And in this case I am referring to how they speak. When someone makes a statement their courage and conviction shows up not only in the substance of their words but also in the very specific way they phrase their sentences and pitch their voice — and many people take the power out of their own words because they are afraid of conflict.

Some of my favorite examples of not having verbal courage:

– Making a claim and dropping your voice volume as what you are saying gets more substantial – thereby signally that you are expecting to be disagreed with. Note this is not the same thing as using a quiet, controlled and soft voice to signal anger. It’s tailing off that signals fear or lack of conviction.

– Use a “raidroading” voice – staccato, bullying your way through points so other people in the room cannot disagree with you. Bullies are cowards by definition.

– Make a statement and then soften the ending – such as “I think we should tell the customer we are going to turn of their access and all that other stuff, blah, blah, blah”. By putting meaningless words onto the end of a strong statement the speaker takes the impact out of the statement, hence making it less controversial.

– Speaking too quickly and breathily, betraying your lack of conviction

– Mumbling

– Whining. Making your statements with a blamey, whiny voice – poor me, don’t argue with me, pity me.

– Staying in your seat when you clearly should be at the white board or standing by the screen. You’re an easier target when you stand up.

– Using 10 words when 1 will do, as an attempt to bamboozle your way through.

Instead, verbal courage is a confident, clear voice and short, uncluttered sentences. Make a claim, state your opinion clearly and then shut up and listen. State what you believe and don’t be afraid to be wrong, and to have people disagree with you.

As Winston Churchill – one of the most courageous leaders (and speakers) of the 20th century said “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.”