I recently wrote a piece about how Entrepreneurs Should be Respected, Not Loved. The premise was that some leaders are too enamored with the approbation of their peers than making the tough decisions in the business that are bound to upset some people.
The corollary to this rule is “decision by indecision.” This is one of my favorite lines to remind entrepreneurs because it is the sort of garden variety mistake that is so common in everyday life. It is the anthesis of JFDI. And I use it so often that my wife must be sick of hearing it. But that’s mostly because it’s so prevalent. It affects us all in everyday life. Decisions by indecision are those where having not made up your mind early enough your options are constrained or gone altogether.
Let me give you some obvious examples.
- You’re thinking about hiring an employee but you sit on the fence too long. You make too many reference calls or want to see three more candidates before you decide. They then decide to accept a job somewhere else or equally as likely they subtly lose confidence in the decision to join you. Even if it is subconscious people get a sense that they’re not “the chosen one” and start to second guess joining you. Recruiting is an emotional decision. When you have the right candidate dithering can cost you. It is a “decision by indecision” because the decision gets made for you.
- You’re a VC. Your’e thinking about investing in a company. Your gut tells you that the team is great and that they’ve built something really valuable if they can get a bit more traction. But you’re concerned about market acceptance or market size. So you make four more reference calls. You ask them to hit another milestone. You bring them back for a third partners meeting. In a world where they have no other options or they REALLY want to work with you, you’re fine but that’s not always the case. The entrepreneurs subconsciously know you’re not convinced. They begin to spend time on other options.
- You’re a software company. You can’t make the tough decision about whether you’re going to target enterprise clients or SMBs. You hedge your bets by building some features they’ll both care about. Your lack of focus means your product is good for both but great for neither. Decision by indecision. And you don’t even know it. That’s the problem.
- Working with a channel partner that isn’t performing? Afraid to “upset the apple cart” by pulling your resources back from that partner and spending time elsewhere? Or having the tough conversations with their senior leadership to say why you can’t continue to allocate resource? Decision.
- Should we delay raising money even though we might take more dilution because we haven’t hit our milestones? Decision.
- You don’t register for a conference by the “early bird” date because you weren’t sure if you wanted to go. Decision.
In each of these cases there is no right or wrong answer about which path you should take. But I’m a big believer in making EXPLICIT decisions. Have a point-of-view and take the actual hard road of saying, “here is what I’ve decided.” Maybe it’s to hire the employee or maybe it’s to explicitly pass. Or maybe it’s even to spend more time referencing them but then be explicit that this decision may lead to losing the option to hire the employee. That’s an acceptable decision. You’ve decided to take on more risk in the hiring process in exchange for having more data points because you’re not yet convinced.
To me the sin is having the decision implicitly made for you. The weakness is not having conviction. And as I stated previously in this post, decisiveness is one of the most important characteristics of an entrepreneur. You won’t always be right. But if you’re right 70% of the time and correct when you make mistakes you’ll always be better off making the early calls. Avoid deciding through indecision. Don’t let outcomes happen to you by default.