Thursday, August 8, 2013

To Do or Not To Do - Now that's a Decision

A while back I had blogged about how impressed I was with the insights from Management Guru Peter Drucker as I read his classic book (aren't they all classics?) “Innovation and Entrepreneurship”. In Chapter 12, Peter discusses a process he calls “Selective Abandonment,” in which every three years or so, the enterprise must put product, process, technology, market, channel, and staff activity on trial for its life. The organization must ask, “Would we now go into this market, product, channel, technology, etc. today? If not, the next question becomes, “How do we stop wasting resources on it?” Selective abandonment not only helps free valuable resources for the “new” but helps an enterprise relieve itself of the burden of “near misses” and “half successes.”

How about just calling this "making a decision"?

The fact is making a decision is not as easy as it might appear. I just came across an interesting blog on HBR on this titled "To Move Ahead You Have to Know What to Leave Behind" by Nick Tasler. Did you know that when an executive announces that her business will change to become a luxury service provider, technically it is not a decision until she also states that they will not provide low cost services to price-sensitive customers anymore?

So, a necessary element of a decision is not just what will be done but also what will not be done. In fact, this element is actually part of the word [decide] itself. As Nick explains, the Latin root of the word "decide" is caidere which means "to kill or to cut." (think homicide, suicide, genocide.) Technically, deciding to do something new without killing something old is not a decision at all. It is merely an addition. But as he also explains, making trade-offs is mentally exhausting and uncomfortable, which is why most decisions never actually become decisions; they are just "pile ons" to existing initiatives.

The Bottom Line
Making real decisions is crucial in business and life. Michael Porter's theory on strategy is based on this concept - deciding what not to do is just as important as what to do. Innovation relies on this as both Peter Drucker and more recently Vijay Govindrajan have demonstrated with their respective theories on "Selective Abandonment" and "The Three-Box Model". Making decisions is a cognitively and emotionally taxing activity that the average person will go to great lengths to avoid but a key element of what makes great leaders great. Great leaders and change agents have come in all shapes, sizes, colors, genders, and personality types. But the one thing they all seem to have in common — the one thing that distinguishes them from ordinary people — is their willingness to decide when others could not.