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How to make difficult decisions

When you run a business (even a small business like mine) you have to make a lot of decisions. Many of these decisions are complicated and have to be taken with incomplete information. But you can’t take too long over them, or you will never get anything done. Here are 3 techniques I use to help with difficult decisions.

Break it down

This is a very simple method for breaking a difficult decision down into smaller parts using a spreadsheet.

  • Decide the criteria that are important for the decision. Add a row for each.
  • Add a weighting column. Assign each criteria a weighting in the range 1 to 10, depending on its relative importance to you.
  • Add a column for each option you are considering.
  • Set each criterion/option cell a value in the range 0 to 10, depending on the extent to which the choice for that column fulfils the criteria for that row.
  • Calculate the weighted sum for each column.
  • Choose the outcome with the highest weighted sum.

Here is an example for choosing between 3 different types of hosting:

making difficult decisions

It’s not particularly scientific, but it does force you to systematically break down the problem into smaller parts and justify your decision.

Take the long view

It sometimes helps to stand back and look at the bigger picture. I can think of no better way to do that than to ask a hypothetical (hopefully elderly) future me, lying on my deathbed, which option they approve of. For example, given the choice between adding an innovative new feature to my product or improving the conversion funnel by a few percent, I think future me would be happier that I chose to add the innovative new feature. It is also a useful reminder that many decisions probably aren’t all that important in the grand scheme of things.

Flip a coin

Sometimes you need to make a decision, but you don’t have enough information or the time taken to get that information is going to cost you more than making the wrong decision. In that case, don’t agonise over it. Just roll a dice or flip a coin and move on.

7 thoughts on “How to make difficult decisions

  1. lkessler

    There’s also the extension to the “flip a coin” method.

    While the coin is in the air, if you feel you’re hoping for one side more than the other, then no matter the outcome, pick the side you’re hoping for.

    I.e. Take the short view. Pick the one that makes the current you happier.

  2. Andy Brice Post author

    Yes. I sometimes find that I fudge the results of one of the methods above to get the result I wanted. But this is still useful, as it is helping to surface your subconscious biases.

  3. Thomas Holz

    A colleague once explained me why he really liked the matrix decisions: You could tweak the weight numbers until you got the decision you wanted, without being responsible for it. It was, after all, coming from the numbers…

  4. Jordan A.

    Great post. I’ve recently been facing an uneasy decision. Any input is deeply appreciated:

    I’ve been using Avangate as my reseller for my legal software business. Avangate recently requested all sorts of sensitive documents (like Articles of Incorporation, company structure and shareholder document, personal ID, etc.) for KYC/AML requirements. Other U.S. software resellers and payment processors, like PayPal, don’t have such request.

    Have any Avangate users here also received the above request from Avangate? Do you trust Avangate to store and use our sensitive info like that? Have you submitted those documents to Avangate or been considering to use another provider? (Which reseller do you recommend?)

    1. Jack

      Hi Jordan,

      I have a desktop software that I put it out to the market recently. I haven’t done any marketing at all so far and not surprisingly the traffic to my website is minimal. I am thinking of doing some google ad words. Can you tell me your experience with Avangate? Thanks

    2. Andy Brice Post author

      Jordan
      I have received the same request for documents from Avangate. I am also a bit uneasy about it. However I believe it is due to European money laundering legislation.

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