Quick reactions and decisions can save our skins in the presence of real danger. If you are surfing and see what looks like a shark, it’s best to get out of the water. If you are wrong and it’s a dolphin, no harm. Decisions like this, made on auto-pilot are fine.

What if you decide after a quick glance that the creature is a dolphin and you are wrong? The shortcut isn’t so good in that case. Those of us who grew up on the beach know what sharks look like and how they act. Rapid judgments were based on experience and they worked well.

Decision deprivation happens when we us auto-pilot when we shouldn’t. When we need to slow down, take in more detail and then decide. This sounds simple but it’s hard because we go to automatic without realizing we are doing so. No need to belabor every fork in the road but speeding through every mental intersection is dangerous.

What can you do to slow yourself down when it’s important to do so?

  • Use reversal. When someone asked me recently why they should hire me (a solo consultant) instead of the “big boys”, like McKenzie, I said “you should hire me because I don’t have a big firm.” Then I gave reasons why hiring a big firm is not a good idea given what the company needs.
  • Ask “how could this work?” instead of “why won’t it work?” Innovation is more often killed by the people inside a company than their customers. Worse than killing off ideas is creating a culture where expressing ideas draws criticism. Creative people rarely stay in bureaucracies.
  • Activate your curiosity. Following your curiosity will lead you places you wouldn’t go otherwise. Adaptation and juxtaposition are more common sources of invention. Uber came about because the founders thought about how they could turn an oversupply of limos, sitting idle, into opportunity. Instead of shrugging and turning away, they waded in. Uber is doing so well they have “haters”…a sure indication of success!
  • Be skeptical. You might be thinking that I’m contradicting myself here since I just trashed cynicism, but these are very different from each other. Skepticism leads us to ask questions like:
    • How do I know that?
    • What makes you say that?
    • What if we are wrong?
    • What if we are right?

Skeptics help us see things we wouldn’t otherwise, but don’t play the cynics game of needing to be right and prove others wrong. That’s insecurity not skepticism.

The mental and literal actions listed here will add to your base of knowledge and experience, giving you more content and better context. If you have that, and an ability to shift from automatic to deliberate, you will be far ahead of the crowd.