Have you ever made a bad decision? Of course you have. If you hadn't, you wouldn't be human. But what if I told you there is actually no such thing?
I realize how crazy that sounds. The world seems to be full of bad decisions that have led to deep regrets, from selling Google stock at $200 to hiring Marissa Mayer as CEO of Yahoo. And yet I firmly believe that every decision made in good faith and with no intent to harm anyone was the right decision at the moment it was made.
1. What you do after the decision matters more than the decision itself.
Consider Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson in this past Sunday's playoff game against the Minnesota Vikings, which took place in sub-zero weather that Minnesotans are used to but Seattleites are not.
Trailing 9-0, Wilson failed to catch a snap on the Vikings' 39-yard line (he had apparently decided to call an audible and was unprepared when the ball came at him). It bounced off his shoulder and went sailing away behind him. Without pausing for even a fraction of a second to curse himself or the ball, Wilson ran back, picked it up, surveyed the field, saw wide receiver Tyler Lockett wide open, and threw him a pass. Lockett ran 35 yards to the Vikings' 4-yard line. Two plays later, the Hawks scored the only touchdown of the game, which they eventually won by one point.
Successful entrepreneurs work the same way. Heidi Hanna, author of The Sharp Solution: A Brain-Based Approach for Optimal Performance, spends a lot of time talking to successful entrepreneurs about what makes them different from everyone else. Here's something she's heard time and again: "I make quick decisions and then make them right." In fact, these entrepreneurs tell her, they spend more time on a decision after they made it, making sure things turn out right, than they do making the decision.
2. Making a decision quickly is better than not making one.
Former University of Missouri president Tim Wolfe was slow to act in response to racial tensions and protests at his school, and paid for his indecision by losing his job. Putting off a decision is almost always easier than making one, but it's almost always the wrong choice. That's doubly true if you're a leader because your indecision leaves the people who are supposed to be following you wondering which way you're headed. So if you've found you made what seems like a bad decision, congratulate yourself. At least you made one.
3. You made the best decision you could with the information you had.
A few years ago, I was a member of ASJA's Executive Committee when we made a spectacularly bad hire. The woman we hired for a highly important position turned out not to be at all up to the job, a fact that she managed to conceal for enough months to do considerable damage. As you can imagine, I spent a fair amount of time kicking myself, but the fact is, we made the right decision based on the information we had. She had the right experience and the right personality for dealing with freelance writers, not always an easy task. Her references spoke glowingly of her, and she had the support of our executive director, whose judgment we had grown to trust. Had we been able to see into the future, we certainly wouldn't have hired her. Given that we couldn't, it was the best decision we could have made at the time.
4. Every decision, good or bad, leads you in a new direction.
That bad hire was far from the worse decision I ever made. About 25 years ago, I married a man I didn't know well enough, and who turned out to be a compulsive liar. When I decided to leave him, he grew violent, and fought me in divorce court for nearly a year. My work, my friendships, and every other aspect of my life suffered. For a while, it seemed like I would never recover.
But one result of that bad decision is that, fearing for my safety, I left New York City, where I had lived most of my life, and relocated 100 miles north, to Woodstock, New York. That move was the result of the worst decision I ever made, and it was the best thing that could have happened to me. I delighted in living in the country. And four years later, I met and married the love of my life. We've just celebrated our 15th anniversary and we never would have met if I hadn't moved out of the city.
I couldn't have predicted any of this when I married the man I shouldn't have. But that's the funny thing about decisions--they always open unexpected doors. So celebrate the bad decisions you've made. You never really know where they might lead.