This is the 73rd in a collection of newspaper ads written by Harry Gray, then CEO of United Technologies, that appeared in the Wall Street Journal from the late 1970s through the early 1980s. Here is the text from that ad.
Sometimes the decision to do nothing is wise.
But you can’t make a career of doing nothing.
Freddie Fulcrum weighed everything too carefully.
He would say,
“On the one hand… but then, on the other,”
and his arguments weighed out so evenly he never did anything.
When Freddie died, they carved a big zero on his tombstone.
If you decide to fish – fine.
Or, if you decide to cut bait – fine.
But if you decide to do nothing, you’re not going to have fish for dinner.
I’ve never heard of Freddie Fulcrum, but I like the alliteration.
I’ve heard of another phrase to describe this reluctance to making a decision – paralysis by analysis, and I know I’ve been guilty of it many times.
I understand the importance of making decisions, but I also like the motto, ‘Look before you leap’. So you walk a fine line between doing the analysis and making a decision. A key point to realize is that you will likely never have all of the info you need to make a decision, so you’re going to have a decision using less than perfect info.
I remember when I was in the midst of evaluating whether or not to open my own personal training studio. I was trying to gather as much info as I could, and since I was looking at a franchise opportunity, I decided to reach out to existing franchise owners around the country and ask them a few questions.
I still clearly remember one phone call, it was probably about my tenth one, and in the middle of asking about my fifth question, the person on the other end, a young woman who owned a franchise out in California, stopped me and said,
‘Jim, how many of these phone calls have you made?’
When I replied that I had made several, she said, “So do you think you are going to learn anything new from making another phone call? At some point you just have to say yes or no to this opportunity.”
She was right, at some point I had to stop gathering and analyzing the data and make a decision. I think it was about two days later that I signed the franchise agreement.
I also remember, as part of running the franchise, I decided to hire a sales coach for a year. As part of the sales training process, I learned that the number one mistake that most salespeople make is that they never ask for the sale.
Most salespeople are great at schmoozing, and can make killer presentations. That’s the easy part, there’s no rejection when you do those things.
It’s when you ask for the sale that you encounter a strong likelihood of the prospect saying no, and most people don’t like rejection, so they avoid it by never getting comfortable with actually trying to close the sale.
As Alec Baldwin said in Glengarry Glen Ross, “ABC – Always Be Closing”.
It’s the same with decision making. At some point you have to make a decision (doing nothing is also a decision), and that’s when you face the possibility of making a bad decision. There’s no risk of making a mistake when analyzing data, so people just keep analyzing data.
It’s when you make a decision, when you put your neck on the line, that there is the possibility of failure, and no one likes failure.
But it’s usually through failure that we learn our best lessons, and as a result, we learn to become better decision makers.
So if you want some practice with making a decision:
Enter your email address at the top left of this page and hit subscribe. It may turn out be a bad decision, but at least you’ll learn from it…
P.S. In a nice bit of serendipity, there’s a story in today’s New York Times that looks at this same issue: Hesitant to Make That Big Life Change? Permission Granted