When we communicate with entrepreneurs, we always ask “what weren’t you adequately prepared for?”, and the answer we typically get back is “the amount of decisions we have to make.” The small business world is full of decisions that typically fall to the person (or persons) at the top. When inundated with requests and options, some entrepreneurs simply shut down because they can’t handle any more input. There is now solid scientific evidence that shows too many options can “shut down” decision making. For entrepreneurs, the world is full of options, so the idea of option induced “brain freeze” is a real concern.
So, how do entrepreneurs break through the multitude of choices? How do they filter input and create action? When we look at critical decision making, some of the most stressful jobs break down the process with an acronym called “OODA” (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act). Through this thoughtful process, entrepreneurs can simplify input and produce tangible actions that result in better decisions. Better decisions can lead to longer term success. Let us look at the process in more detail:
Observe- This step is all about information gathering. If you are reading this, you are connected to the internet. If you are connected to the internet, you have a world of information available at your finger tips. To avoid information that is tabloid-esque, try using advanced methods like Google Scholar to improve research-based search results. Use your past experiences, rely on mentors, or communicate with trusted fellow business people to improve the breadth of your observation. Try and take as much information in as possible, but give yourself a time limit.
Orient- This is undoubtedly the hardest step. Each of us brings bias to the decision making process. Our likes, wants, past experiences, and outside influences can alter our perceptions within the decision making process. Making effective decisions requires individuals to check their biases before creating an action. Are you dedicating resources because it has a positive impact on your business, or because you simply like something? How many logical steps do you have to take in your mind before you can generate a reasonable return on your investment of time and capital? Does the decision you are making resonate with the brand image that you are trying to project? For example, auto dealers are sometimes hesitant to publicly align themselves with public auto safety campaigns (many do this privately) because they don’t want to create the mental link between their product and crashes. Without effective orientation, you could either muddy your brand image (decreasing effectiveness) or associate your business with a consumer thought process that damages your business.
Decide- Once you have your observations, and you have ensured that your biases have been accounted for, it is time to make a decision. Committing yourself to an objective can open you (and your business) up to criticism. Entrepreneurs are the leaders of their respective organizations, but if you can’t make a decision you simply aren’t a leader. Taking any type of risk through making decisions can expose the decision maker to negative consequences, but the results of a steadfast refusal to make decisions results in a long, downward spiral. Make a decision, explain your rationale, and build consensus to move forward. As a final step in the decision process, make sure you attach some meaningful measurement to the decision. Doing “something” isn’t the goal; affecting actual positive and sustainable change is the goal.
Act- If understanding our internal bias is the hardest step, creating an action is a close number two. Businesses and organizations are littered with unfulfilled ideas because they can’t convert the concept into action. A fully realized action requires that you push through the entire decision to its fruition. While you can sometimes depend on partners to assist with the implementation of an act, you must take individual responsibility to see it through. The action step is an impenetrable boundary for many organizations, that would rather reside in the short-term relative safety of “facilitation”, “marketing”, or “communication.” We are in the age of direct conduits, where people are searching for ways to “cut out the middle man” to create efficiency. If you can’t act, consumers (or patrons) will find someone that will.
Practice the OODA process with a few of your immediate decisions. The more practice you have, the faster and more effective the process will become. The choices you make are an opportunity to improve your business or organization. Your current organizational or business position is a summary of the decisions you have made to this point. To alter your trajectory (or improve your trajectory) you many need to change the processes used to choose how to best maximize opportunities, mitigate threats, or handle daily decisions that produce cumulative impacts for your entity.