The Certainty Paradox
We all crave clarity in our work: It means knowing what we should focus on, in what priority, and what we can safely ignore. But in providing that clarity, a leader makes explicit tradeoffs among the various things the team might focus on. And when it’s a tough decision, the conviction to support clear direction is often hard to find.
I learned this first at Apple. Steve was a master in providing clarity, even if he wasn't sure of his answer. He showed us, if indirectly, that being assertive and wrong is often better than taking time to ensure you’re right, particularly when you’re moving fast. Quick, clear decisions in the absence of an obviously correct approach lead you to new knowledge. Waiting too long slows or even stops productivity and can kill your company.
At Inkling, we launched Inkling Habitat as a free, self-service platform. We had no idea whether larger companies would want to subscribe to our platform, so I provided the direction to open it up, make it free, and then talk to larger companies separately about what we could do for them. The team executed accordingly, and we quickly learned that for an enterprise-class solution like Habitat, you need an enterprise-class engagement team. So be it. We'd never have learned that if we'd been too afraid to launch.
- Find information to inform your decision, but don't oversample. 80% of the benefit often comes from 20% of the information.
- If your team is looking to you for a decision, make one. Don't be sloppy, but focus on reaching a point of clarity. Sometimes you won’t get useful information unless you begin executing on something.
- Expect people to “disagree and commit.” People are welcome to express their disagreement and ask questions; always listen carefully for new information. But when the decision is made, you and your team must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to its success.
- It’s fine to gather opinions from your team, but avoid the temptation to coax them into a consensus. That’s usually a cop-out intended to eliminate the need for you to decide. If you have an opinion already, try turning it into a decision instead.
Be the leader who helps people know what they should focus on, and what they can safely ignore, even if you’re wrong more than once in a while.
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