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Entrepreneurs are asked to develop a vision and strategy for an uncertain future. Many entrepreneurs struggle with predicting what the next 6 weeks might hold in store for them, let alone having a strategy for 6 months or several years. At times like these we need to examine our thinking style.
Let me introduce you to two ways of thinking:
1. Binary thinking – right / wrong, yes / no, good / bad, start / end.
2. Directional thinking – go forward, one step closer, lighter gray / darker gray, an experiment, an opportunity to learn, smart, safer, right, wrong, done.
Binary thinking feels safe. It creates a world where things are black or white. They happen or they don't happen. Something is good or bad. A person works well or not. A deal is written or not a deal.
Related: 9 Ways To Combat Decision Fatigue
In the binary world there are start and end dates. Things happen one after the other in a linear, logical and orderly manner.
The biggest and most powerful part of your brain loves the idea that this is how the world works. It longs for the clarity of a world that unfolds in a straight line. It's happy when there's a plan and it's comforting that everything will be fine if we stick to it.
Unfortunately, this is not the way the world works right now, nor is it the way business success usually happens. Success is always chaos, it unfolds out of a world of gray decisions that are "in the right direction".
Success is a network effect of dozens of side projects that come together over time. Decisions at the high performance level are never easy – they involve tradeoffs and risks.
The success from afar looks like it's a plan that has been realized. The way it's behind the scenes is a mess that was vaguely moving in the right direction most of the time. It turns out that it is actually normal for successful entrepreneurs to think directly rather than linearly.
If you look closely at successful people, few of their decisions were black and white and obviously certain. Safe decisions don't pay off. Making safe and clear decisions is actually dangerous for a person seeking the rewards of entrepreneurship. If the decisions don't feel risky and incomplete, the opportunity is too obvious and therefore too controversial.
Decision making in times of uncertainty
Directional thinking is appropriate in the area of uncertainty. It is the thinking that is required to move the many moving parts of a business toward a desirable outcome – most of the time.
Related: 7 Keys to Making the Right Decision the First Time, Every Time
Directional thinking does not relieve tension. It doesn't feel safe or complete. Hence, it requires emotional intelligence.
In a rapidly changing world, anyone who believes they have clear answers about the future turns off their ability to see what is actually happening and reacts accordingly. Likewise, anyone who hesitates while looking for a well-defined path will be left behind.
In a dark room we want to know how to turn the lights back on, but when it comes to the world of entrepreneurship, there is no light switch. You have to get used to feeling in the dark for years installing the lighting.
As entrepreneurs (especially now) we need to stop looking for clear answers. Stop looking for a beginning or an end. Let go of clear boundaries. At best, make your guidelines broad. There are no right answers – only directional answers.
Related: 3 Big Questions to Help You Improve Your Decision-Making Skills
Some decisions you make are wrong. You need to step back from a course of action that seemed wise a month ago. You may have to pay the price if you order too much or too little from a supplier. You may need to have some tough conversations with people about why you are zigzagging now, when yesterday you were praising the benefits of zigzagging. All of this is better than the alternatives of being paralyzed by fear or trying to "make things the way they were."
The only way to go in this time of transformation is to make decisions that are largely correct, somehow correct, and in balance based on all the incomplete information to which we have access.
Be okay with gray. Be okay if you're wrong or not even sure where the target is. The best decisions currently made are in the right direction.