Test Your Decisions Against Reality


image“It is in your moments of decision that your destiny is shaped.” — Tony Robbins

You need to test your decisions against reality.

A lot of decisions might sound good at the time or look good on paper.

When the rubber meets the road, you might find there were a lot of assumptions or it simply was a bad idea.

Some ideas also become obsolete by the time they’re implemented.

To really test your decisions, you need feedback loops that provide first-hand experience.

Nothing beats seeing it for yourself.

Distrust Written Communication

A written report never conveys the same information.

I think the key is that first-hand experience includes an emotional aspect that gets lost in translation.  It’s that emotional aspect that can be your best gauge of whether something is really working.

It’s not that you need to distrust people in their feedback, it’s that you need to distrust communication.

In The Essential Drucker: In One Volume the Best of Sixty Years of Peter Drucker’s Essential Writings on Management, Peter Drucker writes about improving your feedback through first-hand experience.

Dog-Food Your Decisions Early and Often

I make it a habit of dog fooding my decisions regularly.   I try to do it early on through dry runs or show and tells.

I also periodically revisit decisions to see what makes sense in the current landscape.

Life’s not static so a lot of decisions really do get out of date as things change.  I think Seth nailed it when he said you should reinvent your business process every 3 months.

I think a similar reality check makes sense for your life.

Test Your Decisions Against Reality

Reality is the ultimate sounding board.

Via The Essential Drucker:

“Finally, a feedback has to be built into the decision to provide a continual testing, against actual events, of the expectations that underlie the decision.”

Even the Best Decisions Can Be Wrong Or Obsolete

Decision making is prone to error.  Time can also erode decisions.

Via The Essential Drucker:

“Decisions are made by human beings who are fallible; at their best their works do not last long.  Even the best decision has a high probability of being wrong.  Even the most effective one eventually becomes obsolete.”

Distrust Communications

The military knows that you can’t trust communication and reports.  You need to see it first hand.

Via The Essential Drucker:

“When General Eisenhower was elected president, his predecessor, Harry S. Truman, said, “Poor Ike; when he was a general, he gave an order and it was carried out.  Now he is going to sit in that big office and he’ll give an order and not a damn thing is going to happen.” 

The reason why “not a damn thing is going to happen” is, however, not that the generals have more authority than presidents. 

It is that military organizations learned long ago that futility is the lot of most orders and organized feedback to check on the execution of the order.  They learned long ago that to go oneself and look is the only reliable feedback. 

Reports – all a president is normally able to mobilize – are not much help.  All military services have long ago learned that the officer who has given an order goes out and sees for himself whether it has been carried out.  At the least he sends one of his own aides – he never relies on what he is told by the subordinate to whom the order was given.  Not that he distrusts the subordinates; he has learned from experience to distrust communications.”

Battalion Commanders Test the Mess Hall

No report can replace tasting the food for yourself.

Via The Essential Drucker:

“This is the reason why a battalion commander is expected to go out and test the food served his men.  He could, of course, read the menus and order this or that item to be brought in to him.  But no; he is expected to go into the mess hall and take his sample of the food from the same kettle that serves the enlisted men.”

Constantly Check Decisions Against Concrete Examples

Don’t let the convenience of information divorce you from your reality checks.

Via The Essential Drucker:

“With the coming of the computer this will become even more important, for the decision-maker will, in all likelihood, be even further removed from the scene of action. 

Unless he accepts, as a matter of course, that he had better go out and look at the scene of action, he will be increasingly divorced from reality. 

All a computer can handle are abstractions.  And abstractions can be relied on only if they are constantly checked against the concrete.  Otherwise, they are certain to mislead us.”

Reality Never Stands Still Very Long

Reality is a moving target.

Via The Essential Drucker:

“To go and look for oneself is also the best, if not the only, way to test whether the assumptions on which a decision has been made are still valid or whether they are becoming obsolete and need to be thought through again. 

And one always has to expect the assumptions to become obsolete sooner or later. 

Reality never stands still very long.”

Build Your Feedback Around Direct Exposure to Reality

Build your feedback loops against real scenarios and real situations.

Via The Essential Drucker:

“One needs organized information for the feedback.  One needs reports and figures.  But unless one builds one’s feedback around direct exposure to reality – unless one disciplines oneself to go out and look – one condemns oneself to a sterile dogmatism and with it to ineffectiveness.”

Bounce your decisions against the wall of reality, but remember that it’s a moving target.

Key Take Aways

Here are my key take aways:

  • Test your decisions against reality.  What looks good on paper or sounds good doesn’t necessarily work in the real world.
  • Distrust communication, not people.  People do the best with what they’ve got.  Nothing takes the place of first-hand experience.  It’s easy for communication to lose the emotional aspect or to one paint one side or perspective.  The best decisions are made from intuition which is drawing from patterns from first-hand experience.
  • Decisions become obsolete.   Time changes the landscape.  Reality is a moving target.  There is such a thing as too little, too late.  The other reality is that as conditions change, the decision no longer makes sense.  First hand experience can help you see whether your decisions still make sense.
  • See it for yourself.   When you experience it first hand, you get the emotional factor.  You also get exposed to a lot of what would get lost in reports or second-hand information.  This first hand experience is key to building your decision making ability in the future.  The more patterns you get exposed to, the more your intuition can draw from experience.

What decisions are you making that could use a dose of reality?

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  1. I’ve thought long and hard about starting a business. I didn’t just want to jump in without knowing it has long-term potential.

    I love that Seth Godin says reinvent your business every 3 months. We need to stay on top of changing flows within our customers and ourselves.

    Great post! The detail is awesome. You can see that you are working happy when you put your blog posts together.

  2. Hi JD
    I love you said eat your own dogfood, I do that too 🙂 We have to in order for us to really know. You also made a lot great points here as well.
    Thank You,
    Giovanna Garcia
    Imperfect Action is better than No Action

  3. An “Every 3-Month” reasessment seems like a really great time-table to work from. Yeah. I’m totally going to take that advice, thanks so much for passing that tip on.

    And the Harry Truman quote is proceless!

  4. I loved that – reality is a moving target. And even the best decisions can be wrong.

    Feedback is valuable enough – but making sure we have the right kind of feedback systems in our life is key, isn’t it?

  5. @ Karl

    Thank you! I’ve always been a fan of Drucker, but it wasn’t until recently that I got how decisions are less about thinking and more about intuition, experience, pattern matching, and emotion. I think the big “ah ha” for me here was how much the first-hand experience matters so that you can leverage your intuition and emotional perspective.

    @ Giovanna

    Thank you. Dog-fooding has served me well.

    @ Jannie

    I’m in an environment where the landscape changes pretty frequently and reassessment has been my best friend.

    @ Maya

    You bet. My best feedback loop is my personal sounding board. I regularly bounce ideas off some friends that are great at giving honest feedback. It helps balance out my perspective and avoid blind spots.

  6. This one is way too good.
    I observe too many folks that ignore it – testing the decision against the reality.
    Know what’s funny?…. lately I found out I am the list’s #1, I was ignoring the reality for too long…. BOOM!
    It’s good I realized that and I am making proper changes…. hopefully.

  7. Every decision is a risk. Too late, we may have missed the boat. Too fast, we may have lacked sufficient assessment. Whatever it is, we must be willing to take responsibility, learn from it, reinvent and take the risk again if we ever want to be successful.

    We journey this Life only once, and this is the only one chance for us to be successful. Good or bad the decision, it will change! As you wisely said, ‘Time changes the landscape.’

  8. @ Alik

    Thank you. Reality can be a tough wakeup call, but it’s also refreshing. The key is keeping a balanced perspective and using the feedback to improve. Nothing’s permanent and you have a lot of freedom in how you shape your clay.

    @ Wenny

    Timing is so key. I used to underestimate it, but now I realize the value of windows of opportunity.

    Great point on being accountable, reinventing as needed, and taking risks.

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