Monday, February 18, 2013

Chances are...

The 1974 film Blazing Saddles is considered one of the great American comedies.  A satire not only of movie westerns, but also of American popular culture, many of the movie's scenes have become classic.

One of those highlights was the late Madeline Kahn's performance of "I'm Tired" a comic lament to over-abundant but largely unfulfilling opportunities:  "I'm tired of being admired..."  We should all have such problems.

The song came to mind this week during discussions with business leaders about coping with the endless series of decisions they must make to keep their organizations moving forward.  Being fatigued was a common complaint.

Indeed.  We've all had those days where we have felt so bombarded by incoming requests that by day's end we feel paralyzed or simply unable to process even a simple request like: "Honey, what do you want for dinner?" without risking a domestic violence charge.

Make no mistake, decision-making is hard work and takes a physical as well as mental toll. The price you may pay, according to experts, is no laughing matter.  John Tierney, a NY Times science writer wrote about decision fatigue in a 2011 story for the paper's magazine:
"No matter how rational and high-minded you try to be, you can’t make decision after decision without paying a biological price. It’s different from ordinary physical fatigue — you’re not consciously aware of being tired — but you’re low on mental energy. The more choices you make throughout the day, the harder each one becomes for your brain, and eventually it looks for shortcuts, usually in either of two very different ways. One shortcut is to become reckless: to act impulsively instead of expending the energy to first think through the consequences. (Sure, tweet that photo! What could go wrong?) The other shortcut is the ultimate energy saver: do nothing."
In the book Outliers, which examines attributes of success, Malcolm Gladwell also deconstructs failure, by examining a series of airline crashes.  Fatigue played a crucial role in escalating the series of missteps and poor decision-making that led to each disaster.

Fortunately, most organizational decisions don't involve life and death.  But making decisions is part of running any organization and you need to get them right much more often than wrong.

Developing a personal framework is essential.  Among the advice for doing so that was shared at our meeting:
  • Set limits on the number of choices or decisions you have to make each day. "If I have a big decision to make, and I've spent time working it out, I won't make another one that day," one executive said.  "And if I am feeling bombarded by small stuff, I get away from it, rather than immerse myself it it."
  • Establish a personal routine:  Are you a morning person, or night owl?  Tackle the toughest issues when you are at your personal best.  "Don't let others dictate terms or impose their urgency on you."
  • Defer: "Sleep on it," is often the best choice, one owner said.  "Getting a fresh perspective always helps and I'm often surprised at what I think of overnight.  Very few things demand an on-the-spot decision."
  • Plan for mistakes:  "If you are not making mistakes, you probably aren't stretching your people," an owner said.  "Correcting small ones helps avoid big ones, and can teach others how to think, not just do."
Opportunities and options bombard us continually.  If, as Louis Pasteur once wrote, "chance favors the prepared mind," your mind needs to be rested and focused to sort through them properly.

No comments: