Decision Time: The Fork in the Road

"When You Come to a Fork in the Road, Take It!" — Yogi Berra

My sister and I once decided to do a two day hike up a mountain. We were going to spend the night in a cabin and complete the journey to the peak the next day. We came to a fork in the path and we took what we were sure was the right one. Much later the same day we found ourselves at the peak looking down a very long ways to the cabin where we had planned to overnight.

In all important projects we are faced with decisions even more challenging than that mountain pathway. And, typically, we are not faced with a choice between two pathways but many. To make progress we must choose and discover where the path takes us.

Here are five questions you should consider in making these decisions.

  • What are the benefits of delaying and for how long can you delay? If you can make significant progress in other areas, delaying can be a big benefit. More information may become available. A new pathway may appear. The decision could be obvious.
  • What are the dangers of delaying for too long? Sometimes an immediate decision is required. For example: if you don't pick a path now, multiple people could be sitting with no work to do until a decision is made. Competitors might pass you.
  • Is the decision just an ordinary pathway or is it crossing the Rubicon? On many pathways, you can quickly discover whether they are incorrect and simply turn around if necessary. However, some pathways take you across a river which is a point of no return. You have gone public with your idea. People are committed to the choice within your group and beyond.
  • What are the risks and what are the opportunities? Important decisions will always have both risks and opportunities. Consider them. Rate the risks and the opportunities. Sometimes that rating can make the choice obvious.
  • What internal barrier is causing you to pause? I have seen too many leaders wait to long to make a decision in spite of overwhelming evidence. Consider what is making you pause. Often leaders pause when they know the decision will cause disruption to many even though it is obvious that it is correct for the overall health of the group. Know that a decision must be made and it is your responsibility. Do what is right for the overall group.

For my sister and I on top of that mountain, it wasn't that difficul of a decision. We decided we had crossed a rubicon and making it to the cabin wasn't going to happen. We hiked down the mountain, the last part in the dark. We looked for and found a very nice hotel with very soft beds. I wish more decisions were that easy!

Yours in the calm pursuit of excellence,
ALAN WILLETT