When it comes to making life's truly big decisions -- whom to marry, where to live, whether to start a business or change career -- there are lots of potential approaches out there you can use to guide you.
Jeff Bezos, for instance, used his famed "regret minimization framework" to decide to give up his cushy finance job and start Amazon. It consists of imagining yourself on your deathbed and asking which of the available alternatives you will regret least. When faced with this sort of hard choice, philosopher Ruth Chang suggests you ask yourself not "What should I do?" but "Whom do I want to become?'
Richard Branson recently added another useful technique to this list.
What would your kids think?
The suggestion from the Virgin founder came in the course of a long LinkedIn post about all the ways his family inspires his work. Which sounds heartwarming, but what does it have to do with making tough decisions? As Branson explains, he doesn't just talk through difficult choices with his loved ones, he also utilizes them in his own version of Bezos's regret minimization framework.
While the Amazon founder considers what action he personally would regret least (and therefore, presumably be most proud of), Branson looks further out and focuses not just on his feelings but those of the next generations as well.
My children "remain at the front of my mind when I make important business decisions," Branson writes. "I always ask myself: 'Is this something my children and my grandchildren will be proud of?' and 'Will it make the future a little bit brighter for the next generation?'"
He adds, "I'm sure all parents would agree that this is the best way to make decisions and to find the inspiration to do the right thing."
This procedure probably can't help you choose between two suppliers (unless one of them produces their products in a CO2-belching factory and the other runs clean and green), but for really meaningful forks in the road -- which market to pursue, which business model to adopt, which collaborators to partner with -- picturing the faces of the children in your life should help you widen your focus and think more holistically and long-term.
As 180 top CEOs affirmed just a few years back, ideally business shouldn't just be about creating shareholder value and chasing the next quarter's profits. It should be about building a better, fairer, more prosperous world over the long haul. Whom are we building the world for? The next generation, of course.
So the next time you face a tough call, picture trying to explain your thinking about both alternatives to your kids. If one option makes you feel proud and the other uncomfortable, then you should probably have your answer.