For the past few weeks, I’ve been thinking about ‘original thinking’. How can I be confident that my reasoning for my actions is indeed authentic? I think about this because there’s so many inputs to any decision, that, soon enough, the line between what’s original and what’s copied, gets blurred.
I’ve felt this problem many a time, especially when I ponder over some mini-existential questions for myself: Where do I want to be in the long-term, what do I want to be doing, what do I optimize life for, to name a few. So, when I articulated this situation to a mentor, some interesting insights emerged. We went for a walk, and in a classic peripatetic style of learning, here’s what I gathered:
I learned that my “problem” presupposes that there exists one right answer and 100 wrong answers. The reality, however, is that there exists a space of right decisions and a space of wrong decisions. Meaning, there are 100 right answers and 100 wrong answers.
The goal, then, is to be in the right decision space, not the wrong one. It’s to not let the search for a global maxima hinder the ability to reach a local maxima. Most importantly, it’s to take a decision regardless.
Ambiguity will always be a given. The skill is to make decisions with ambiguity. At Google, an internal memo reads that a leader is someone who makes decisions; it doesn’t matter whether the decisions are right or wrong, but the idea is to make decisions.
This simple clarity of the right decision space and wrong decision space helped me make progress with my own thinking, and not be like a deer stuck before headlights.
Then, I asked about subjective factors that go into a decision. For example, there’s always a subjective, personal reason why you want to do X, something you may not be able to articulate. What about these reasons? How do I know whether these are indeed authentic reasons, or masquerading as something else?
Enter ‘intuition’, the litmus test for directing you to the right decision space. I learned that subjective reasons are intuitive. And intuition is akin to “fingerspitzengefühl” (German for ‘finger-tip feeling’). It guides you to the right spot in a dark room. You need not be able to fully articulate why you feel a certain way, but that you do feel a particular way is useful information for making a decision.
Now, of course, how can decisions be taken without convictions? Once again, I revisited the ‘Strong Convictions, Weakly Held’ idea. I realized that being in the right decision space, with intuition guiding my decisions, is only going to work if I have solid convictions about some core ideas. Call them ‘principles’ or ‘values’. But some basic, core ideas about life would help the process of making ‘good-enough decisions’. You can always course-correct later, but an indicative sense of where your convictions lie and the strength to act on those convictions is important.
Good Enough Decisions
In summary, I’d club my lessons as the ability to make good enough decisions. These decisions get you started, help you move, and get you unstuck. At least that’s how they’ve helped me over the week, as I think about some big mini-existential questions.
Until next time,
I posted a video after a year. :) Take a gander.
Something else to watch / listen
Do have a look at Elon Musk’s TED interview, if you haven’t already.