Blissful Ignorance

I may be an overthinker. Anyone reading this who knows me just laughed out loud. I like to do graphic design. I was recently working on a brand design for a group, and I found myself making tiny, almost imperceptible changes as I “cleaned up” the design. In fact, I have actually sent people a revision, and they cannot tell what I changed. I can.

Like most leaders, I struggle with overthinking things. To be sure, there is often a lot at stake. The decisions we make as leaders have large and extensive impact. It feels right to take the time and make every effort to get things right.

However, overthinking is not always a superpower. What if what you think gets in the way of what you want?

Stay with me here. Leaders want their organizations to be successful. We want our people to thrive. We feel the weight of the decisions we make. So, we work at making good decisions. But what if we are not making better decisions? What if the time and energy we expend isn’t producing better results?

Studies show, 99.5% of leaders overthink. It is the most expensive thing organizations invest in. Overthinking results in running through the same thoughts over and over without reaching an outcome. It causes us to focus on the worst possible outcomes. It results in us not taking action because we’re obsessed with finding the perfect outcome and end up acting too slow or failing to make a decision.

Leaders overthink for good reasons. We overthink because things really matter. We overthink because of fear. We overthink because we lack certainty (which everyone craves by the way). So, what do we do?

We must embrace uncertainty. We are never going to know all the outcomes. We are never going to be able to think through all the possibilities (that doesn’t always stop me from trying though). One way to help get past this is to involve other people in the decision-making process. If I involve people I trust, I can rely on them to alert me to things I may have missed and allow myself to let go.

We can use the “do nothing” option. Sometimes I ask myself “What will happen if I don’t make a decision?” One of the reasons overthinking is so detrimental is that it often keeps us from making a timely decision. Not making a timely decision means we are experiencing part of the results of not deciding at all. Considering what will happen if we don’t act helps us understand the need to act in a timely manner.

We should understand the role of intuition. Good leaders have good instincts. They follow their “gut.” It’s been attributed to a number of people, General Colin Powell and Jeff Bezos to name two, but it has held up to research anyway. When we have to make an important decision, we should have no less than 40% and no more than 70% of the information we wished we could have. If you have less than 40%, you are shooting from the hip. If you wait till you have more than 70% (which may never happen), you are delaying too long.

What allows us to make a decision with less than all the information is our intuition. Intuition is not magic or some sixth sense. Intuition is the brain’s ability to compare the current situation to other experiences and then make a choice based on those comparative examples. Simply put, your brain just tries to find things that look the same in your past and then tells you what to do based on that.

The great news is we can train our brains to use intuition better and more often. All we have to do is gather more experiences. We can do this without actually having those experiences because reading about them (or hearing them) is almost the same thing to our brains. Reading biographies of great leaders, history, and stories about companies and markets, all create a larger and deeper reservoir of comparative information for our brain to use to give us a “gut” response.

Ignorance may not be bliss, but you have to admit that you don’t worry about what you don’t know. As leaders, we can’t disassociate ourselves from the things we are responsible for. We can, however, become better at making good decisions quickly with a reasonable amount of information. I want to be a leader who makes good decisions in a timely manner because that will produce the best results for everyone, and it is The Kimray Way.