Growing up in a Western culture, I’ve always been taught that to decide is to generate options and choose the best of the options that lie before you.
For many people, that is a process of convergent thinking.
The most logical choice based on the information you have available.
For others, like me, it’s a process of divergent thinking.
Generating several possibilities, examining the probability of success given the information available, and exploring where that path leads.
“Convergent thinking is the process of identifying recognizable and real solutions to challenges, while divergent thinking is a creative process that generates unique ideas and fresh opportunities.”
Root meaning of the word ‘Decide’.
It wasn’t until a few years ago that I came across a great series of insights from Philip Folsom, a corporate culture consultant from Wolf Tribe, that I learned the true meaning of the word decide.
It means to cut off.
It means choosing all the things that you are not going to pursue, and to cut them off so that they don’t distract you from the things that you are going to pursue.
Sales / Marketing Application
Satya Nadella, the Chairman and CEO of Microsoft, is one of the most inspiring agile leaders in the world to me.
He is way up there in the inspirational clouds along with leaders like Barrack Obama, Phil Knight, and Amy Jo Martin. He’s also the person who transformed Microsoft into one of the most agile, progressive, and innovative companies on Earth after decades of it being known for a toxic culture.
One of his first decisions as CEO was to cut the Windows Phone product from further development.
A recent podcast I listened to (Agile Actually) estimated the cost of that decision to be a touch over $4.5 billion and change. If they were going to achieve the colossal goals that he had set for the firm, they simply couldn’t afford to carry dead weight regardless of how much potential it had.
That’s a company with almost infinite resources. Microsoft.
And yet, for Satya and the team to achieve their goals, they first had to decide what not to do. What not to pursue. What not to invest in. What to cut off.
I’ve been a big fish in small ponds for most of my life.
An impact player that comes off the bench and helps the small team win against the odds. It’s a great feeling and it can lead to thinking you’re a bit of a rock star, but in truth, it’s easier to win as a small team taking on giants than it is the other way around BECAUSE of the limited options available to you.
Because you can’t pursue everything.
Because you must make smart decisions about where you invest your time, how you invest your money, and why you are going to pursue the things you choose to pursue.
You are forced to choose what you MUST pursue – sometimes to survive, at other times to thrive – and you are forced to choose what you MUST leave behind.
What you must cut off so that it doesn’t distract you, divide your resources, splinter your focus, and prevent you from doing the most valuable work. Solving the most compelling problems.
Commit to excellence.
The biggest successes you see in the restaurant world are places that have a small, select menu that they make better than anyone else on their block. In their city.
Sometimes, in the world.
The places that tend to fail have everything from Italian dishes to Greek starters to a Texas BBQ grill on their menu. They tend to have frozen, processed ingredients rather than fresh ones and they tend to be a waste of your time and money.
Shit food. Shit service. Shit experience.
Entrepreneurship / Intrapreneurship
So, whether you’re leading a department of a large organization or you’re the founder of a small but growing business, you need to focus.
You need to decide what you aren’t going to do long before you decide what you are going to commit to, do, and become.
I’ve witnessed incredibly talented, hardworking people who barely make ends meet, whilst people with average skills and work ethic, but excellent decision-making capabilities, thrive.
Because whilst the average person is investing 8 hours in a day in doing one thing well, the super intelligent, uber talented person is juggling ten plates whilst trying to be a great parent and spouse.
Same 24 hours in a day; very different time investment.
The 8-hour day focus compounds over time, whilst keeping ten plates spinning in the air means that you only get to dedicate 45 minutes to something of value. Every week your competitors are moving streets ahead of you and you’re barely able to get out of the starting blocks, let alone compete.
Build a great business.
Yes, there are outliers, but anyone who’s been in marketing or sales for any length of time will tell you that the best marketing plan is to build a great business and deliver a great product.
If you do that, I could design all your posters in braille, and you’d still shine.
Don’t do that and it doesn’t matter if we get Charlize Theron in for a killer 60-second Tik Tok ad, you’re still going to fail the hard way.
One of the first things I learned in Marketing was from a quote, “Nothing kills a bad business faster than great marketing”, and it’s why I’ve always seen product development as such a critical element of marketing.
You need to choose what you are going to build, why, and then focus on building the best version of that product, feature, or service that you possibly can.
So, success in product development and marketing / sales starts with a decision about what needs to be cut loose in order for you to thrive. What you choose not to do.
Take some time out to reflect on the idea of cutting things off.
Letting go of dead weight, be it in your professional or personal life, can make all the difference between surviving and thriving.