Clarity sometimes masks as rigor

People who appear clearer in their actions are often mainly more rigorous in making decisions.

They make a single decision rather than a dozen small ones.

I never answer the phone during meals.

I always apologize for mistakes.

I never compromise security for convenience.

I always stick with the first appointment, even when later a conflicting appointment pops up that’s more appealing.

I never charge by the hour.

I’m always on time.

When you make these kinds of decisions once (and for all), it becomes way easier to say “no” to interfering opportunities. That rigor is what others perceive as clarity.

Standing at a crossroads

It’s Friday night. You’re standing at a crossroads.

Left, there’s a party waiting for you. Right, there’s a relaxing walk through the park waiting for you. Straight on, there’s work waiting for you.

Which path do you choose?

The crucial aspect here is that there probably isn’t a right or wrong choice. It could even be that every choice is just as good as the other.

The more important aspect is that decisions like these, decisions for which there is no right or wrong answer, are an opportunity to find out what matters most to you.

Decisions like these are an opportunity to define who you want to be. By making them consciously, you get to decide what matters most to you.

So, which path do you choose?

Clarity means making decisions

Not the easy ones. The hard ones. The ones that provide direction: This is where you’re headed. This is what matters most.

For example, if you’re a world-class software developer, it’s probably an easy decision for you to sell world-class software development. What’s hard is to decide what kind of software? For what kind of client? At what scope? Part of a client team or on your own? Etc.

In general, what makes these decisions hard is that they usually mean letting go of opportunities:

If we decide to focus our communication on one message, it means that another aspect of our idea might not get much attention.

If we decide to concentrate our efforts on this feature, it means that this other feature of our product might not get much attention.

If we decide to firmly stand for your cause, it means that parts of our audience might dismiss our stance.

And yet, if you do make these decisions, clarity is the reward.

Clarity in your messaging – so that your clients will know what you really stand for. Working with matching clients is so much easier now.

Clarity in your actions – so that they are in line with what you want to stand for. Saying “no” is so much easier now.

Clarity in your next steps – so that they lead you towards your goals. Committing to work that needs to be done is so much easier now.

While it might be hard to make these decisions, once you made them, everything that follows will be so much easier.

Your best decision

What was the best decision you made in 2021?

Think a moment about it.

I bet you chose a decision that led to a great outcome. Didn’t you?

Well, so did I when I was being asked that question by Annie Duke while reading her book “Thinking in Bets”. In fact, everyone does it. It’s due to what Annie Duke calls resulting, evaluating a decision from its outcome.

After all, when the outcome was great it must have been a great decision, right?

But that ignores luck. (And bad luck.)

Because what if the great outcome was due much more to luck than the quality of your decision? Take e.g. hiring. Hiring your best employee has as much to do with her applying as it has to do with you choosing her over someone else. That she applied in the first place had nothing to do with how you decided. But it influenced the outcome heavily.

It’s just as likely that another decision of yours didn’t turn out so well because of bad luck. She actually was the best candidate. But nobody, including you and her, could have predicted that she would be diagnosed with cancer 2 weeks after.

Once you see this you can’t unsee it anymore: The quality of a decision is not the same thing as the quality of its outcome.

Here are a couple of thoughts that I’d like to end the year with:

  • Once again: Looking back at 2021, what was the best decision you made? Why?
  • Can you think of a situation where you feel like you made a good decision even though the outcome wasn’t that good?
  • How about the opposite?
  • What can you learn from that for your decision making in 2022?

Why did you choose that thing?

Shoppers in a supermarket were asked to participate in a market research study. Two flavours of jam were presented to them and they had to decide which one tasted better. After they tasted their favourite flavour for a second time they were asked why they liked it better. The catch: In the meantime, the two flavours had been exchanged so that they, in fact, tasted the less favoured a second time. The surprising outcome was that more than half of the participants didn’t even notice the trick yet still found reasons why the flavour that they tasted for the second time tasted, well, better.

Don’t believe me? Watch this short documentary about this psychological phenomenon called decision blindness:

This experiment was repeated over and over again in different contexts. Men were asked to choose among two images of women and then had to reason why they liked this one better. Shoppers had to reason why they preferred this laptop configuration over another, and so on and so forth.

It turns out that, as humans, we’re pretty great at finding reasons for the things we do.

Rather than doing the things that we find good reasons for.

That’s what decision blindness is about. It’s the phenomenon that once we have decided upon something, we tend to look for (and find) good reasons for why this was a good decision – no matter how we came to that decision.

J.P. Morgan, the founder of the bank that carries his name, called it the two reasons:

A man always has two reasons for doing anything: a good reason and the real reason.

Now, it turns out that the good reasons are never a problem in communication. Because if we start from work that matters … if we’ve sweated the details, then we’ll always have enough good reasons to win any rational argument.

Only that it’s not about the rational arguments to start with. Because if they don’t align with the real reason of our audience, decision blindness kicks in and they will just happily take our arguments and make them fit their decision.

This is one of the reasons why we dig deep to understand the real reasons of our audience in the “Leaders Light the Path” masterclass.

More than one priority

Having more than one priority is one of the reasons why decision making in some companies feels so difficult.

Imagine we are SuperSafe Corp and we build safes. We want to build the safest, most affordable safes. Now what does that mean when faced with a decision among the two attributes?

E.g. when faced with the decision between two different materials, one of which is safer but more expensive, what do we do? Do we make it safer or more affordable?

Making both attributes a priority turns every decision like this into a struggle.

If, however, our priority was to make “the safest safe under 10.000$”, then the decision basically makes itself: If it fits in the budget, then go for the safer material, else don’t. We have turned one priority into a constraint.

When we have two priorities at the same time it means that we want two different things at the same time. This can easily lead us into a conflict. Wanting to do one thing but knowing that there’s a border you can’t or won’t cross, is different.

Simplifying decision making

“I try to make one decision that removes 1000 decisions.” – Tim Ferris

Rather than to struggle each time you’re standing in front of the candy aisle, it’s much easier to decide that candy just isn’t for you and skip the aisle altogether. Or that you only buy this or that chocolate brand. Might be a totally different decision for you, but Ferris’ point still holds: making a thousand decision is actually exhausting, even if they are small. Whenever you can find a general rule for your actions, life gets easier in that regard.

What Tim Ferris uses as a life hack works even better for teams.

It can be super frustrating and totally exhausting when every decision escalates into a discussion about tiny details and different perspectives. Aligning your team and focusing everyone on a common mission takes this load off of your team and makes life so much easier for everyone on the team.

But it does more than that: if everyone agrees on a guiding star, decision making can become distributed. When it’s obvious how a decision is made, everyone on the team can make that decision.

What’s required is to get clarity about what actually matters for us as a team and as a company and then communicate this openly and frequently.

Hard choices

Many people believe that a great presentation makes it easy for the audience to choose you. The easier, the better.

Yet, the most satisfying decisions are the hard ones. The ones where we consciously struggle with the decision.

What makes a decision hard is that it forces us to confront who we are. Do we want this thing so badly that we are willing to pay so much for it? Do we really want to spend the effort of changing our habits to achieve that goal?

If a decision is hard then it is because we care. Because if we wouldn’t, it would be easy, right? If we don’t care, we can just as easily dismiss a thing as we can choose it. It won’t matter much.

So, leading your audience to a hard choice means leading them to something they care deeply about. And if they do, then the decision they make is this:

“If that’s who I am, then this is what I need to do!

This, of course, is only possible if you care, too! Leading them to this point means making them see that you understand something profound about them. That you do care about them.

You care by leading them to the point of no return. The point where this choice needs to be made. The point where tension is so high that it can only be relieved by making the decision.

What separates good from great presenters is that the great ones realise that it’s still the audience who’s going to decide. It has to be. Because when it is, you’ve got commitment. They have consciously decided for you.

Your job is to make this decision obvious. To confront them with it. To make them see clearly so that if that’s really who they are, then, well …

… up to you to decide.

Mit oder ohne Sprudel?

Einfache Entscheidung: Mit oder ohne Sprudel …

… bis PowerPoint in’s Spiel kommt und wir daraus eine Entscheidungsvorlage machen. Im Nu wird aus einer einfachen Entscheidung eine Schlacht aus 10 Folien, ohne ein einziges Mal die eigentliche Frage zu formulieren. Stattdessen:

Folie 1: Titelfolie mit Vortragstitel („Vor- und Nachteile unterschiedlicher Wasserdarreichungsformen“), Name des Vortragenden, seine Abteilung, Datum, Ort, mindestens fünf Logos
Folie 2: Agenda
Folie 3: Umsatzanteile der Wassersorten mit und ohne Sprudel während der letzten 6 Quartale, aufgeschlüsselt nach Regionen. Unten Vergleich mit zuckerhaltigen Erfrischungsgetränken.
Folie 4: Mission Statement für das hippe Wasser ohne Sprudel, Marktanalysen.
Folie 5: Zusammensetzung der Inhaltsstoffe, so klein, dass man nichts erkennen kann, dazu Zertifikate der Lebensmittelprüfinstitute sowie von Stiftung Warentest.
Folie 6 & 7: Das Gleiche für die Sorte mit Sprudel
Folie 8: Customer-Satisfaction-Rating und Award für die kreativste Brand-Kampagne 2019
Folie 9: Einordnung in die Brand-Range mit verschiedenen Geschmackszusätzen, Fit-Varianten, Größen und Sonderaktionen.
Folie 10: Zusammenfassung
Bonusfolie 11: „Vielen Dank für Ihre Aufmerksamkeit“

11 Folien lang über sich geredet, kein einziges Mal die Frage „Was mögen Sie lieber?“ berührt und kein einziges Mal die Frage „Mit oder ohne Sprudel?“ überhaupt gestellt.

Entscheidungen werden umso einfacher, je klarer ist, wofür oder wogegen man sich entscheiden soll. Es lohnt sich jedes Mal, das auf den Punkt zu bringen und sich zu zwingen, die eigentliche Frage in einem, maximal zwei Sätzen zu formulieren.

Und sich dann in die Perspektive der Entscheider zu versetzen. Welche Informationen brauchen sie überhaupt, um entscheiden zu können? Wie kann ich ihnen das so schnell und einfach wie möglich erklären?

Und oft ist es einfacher, als man denkt. Dann ist jeder froh, wenn ein Thema auch einmal in 2 Minuten abgehakt ist. Wirklich. Wenn alles gesagt ist, ist alles gesagt.

Ich mag übrigens lieber ohne Sprudel.

Ich sehe was, was du nicht siehst

„Ich sehe, dass wir die Art und Weise, wie Menschen Musik hören, verändern können.“

„Ich sehe, dass wir Patienten, die an Lupus erkrankt sind, helfen können.“

„Ich sehe, dass wir mit einer kleinen Änderung am Entscheidungsprozess ein viel stärkeres Wir-Gefühl im Unternehmen erreichen können.“

Die anderen aber sehen es noch nicht.

Aus ganz unterschiedlichen Gründen. Den einen ist es nicht wichtig, die anderen halten es nicht für machbar. Die einen haben die Hälfte nicht verstanden, die anderen haben es gar nicht erst versucht. Und so passiert nichts. Die Kunden kaufen nicht, die Mitarbeiter ziehen nicht mit.

Und es ist ihr gutes Recht. Niemand ist verpflichtet, zu sehen was Sie sehen.

Gerade deshalb ist es so wichtig, dass Sie sich darum bemühen. Es ist das vielleicht wichtigste Ziel, das Sie als Botschafter für Ihre Sache haben können: Dass die anderen es auch sehen können!

Warum? Sobald die anderen es sehen, stehen Ihnen alle Türen offen. Denn dann wollen sie mehr wissen. Sind offen für einen Folgetermin. Für konkrete Umsetzungsempfehlungen. Wollen das Projekt endlich machen.

Das ist die Magie guter Kommunikation: Wenn Unsichtbares sichtbar wird, wenn Bedeutung klar wird, dann kommen Steine ins Rollen kommen, geht ein Ruck durch das Unternehmen, die Kunden, die Menschen …

Spread the Word

Dr. Michael Gerharz

Dr. Michael Gerharz