What drives your decision making: positive or negative thoughts?
If you make a decision based on avoiding negative consequences, you have made – in my terms – a negative decision. You made a decision based on your fears.
If, on the other hand, you make a decision based on what you want to happen, you have made – again in my terms – a positive decision. You made a decision based on your goals, wants or needs.
My contention is that if you make positive decisions, you will find that the majority of the negative perceptions you held that caused you to make a negative decision either never eventuate or are able to be countered as a result of the positive decisions you make. However, if you make negative decisions, the positive outcomes you could have achieved rarely eventuate.
Let me illustrate with some examples of both individual and organisational decisions.
Positive and negative individual decisions
A personal example involves my resignation from Shell. I had been wanting to return home to Australia after my stint in Fiji came to a close in 1999 – to spend more time with my eldest son who was by now at second year at University. However, the only role I was offered was in London. I reluctantly agreed, afraid that if I didn’t I would be out of a job or be placed in a role in Australia which was uninteresting or unchallenging and eventually boredom would claim me. I made a negative decision. I enjoyed the new role and did what others rated as a great job, but I was unsatisfied because I did not have what I really wanted.
Three years later I found myself in the same situation, wanting to come back to Australia but offered roles which were undoubtedly interesting and challenging but based in Kuala Lumpur or Singapore. The only role in Australia was “special duties” a non-descript role at best described as being in a holding pattern waiting to see if something would come up. I could make one of two negative decisions. I could accept the role in East Asia, which I would have enjoyed but would not have allowed me to achieve my other goal, to be home in Australia, or I could have accepted the role in Australia and achieved that goal and been bored at work, which was also not what I wanted. It was also clear that the end result for me in Australia was potentially being made redundant.
The fear that was driving my negative decisions was that of not having a job, being out of work and not being able to provide for my family. I had only ever worked for Shell.
This time, however, I took a positive decision. I took control and found out what the HR policies were that affected me if I resigned. I found out that resigning was not that significantly different financially from being made redundant. I made the decision to resign, return to Australia and find an interesting and challenging job role.
Within a week of it being publically known that I was resigning, I was offered a job as CEO of a New Zealand consulting company. The company believed strongly in virtual working and allowed me to reside in Melbourne. That one decision has since led to the formation of Change Factory, the building of the company enlisting a diverse team of people to do some very satisfying work in Australia and the Pacific with a wide variety of clients and challenges. I have enjoyed a terrific work life and managed to balance that with opportunities which arise from both my sons being married and having their own children and living in the same city I do. If I had made a negative decision all those years ago, little of what I have now that is positive would have come to pass.
Many individuals make negative decisions the majority of the time.
Politicians tend to specialise in making negative decisions, afraid to put the electorate off-side. Perversely, history shows that the voting public like and forgive politicians who make positive decisions and stand by their beliefs even if the decisions they make has a negative impact on parts of society.
People who act as victims are perpetually making negative decisions.
Organisational positive and negative decisions
Organisationally, we make negative and positive decisions too.
Kodak made negative organisational decisions, which sealed their demise when they decided not to cannibalise their film and processing business and allowed others to cannibalise it for them. They could have made positive decisions but their fear of losing their business model which had served them well for many years drove them to negative decisions.
Cost cutting organisations may be making negative or positive decisions. If cost cutting becomes a cult where the only ideas acceptable are those which cut costs, then it is likely that there will be a large minority or majority of negative decisions being made.
Negative in that the decisions are driven by fear of failure in being able to take action which, in a customers’ mind, lowers the perception of cost, not just the actual cost and increases the perception of benefit and by both actions increases the perception of value.
Positive decisions with regard to cost come when there is a realisation that there is a structural cost issue and despite fears of the consequences to people and the business, decisions to cut unproductive costs are made in any case to stabilise the business.
Negative decisions are often made on the altar of consensus. Afraid of dissent, organisations make poor decisions rather than making good decisions and work very hard to sell the decision to people.
The case for positive decision making
When we make negative decisions, we pass control of the rationale of the decision and the outcomes in our life, or that of the organisation, over to others. When we make positive decisions we retain control, albeit for better or worse, but we do retain control.
Basis for decision making
Negative decisions are made based on previous history and an expectation that history will repeat itself. Positive decisions are based on what we want the future to be.
Negative decisions are based on fear. Positive decisions are based on hope.
Negative decisions have little or no contingency planning associated with them. Positive decisions have a high level of contingency planning associated with them to try as best possible to foresee potential negatives and prevent them from occurring.
Negative decision making has few options – being the lesser of two or more evils. Positive decision makes attempts to seek out all alternative outcomes and sets about achieving the best of those outcomes.
Negative decision making, being based on the absence of negative consequences, has little opportunity for planning. Negative decision making tends to be ad-hoc and reactionary. Positive decision making requires a lot of planning and is proactive.
Negative decision making usually has a small group of people supporting it, even if they are influential. The support base itself is also usually negative, making it difficult to establish any other paradigm. Positive decision making has a broader support base. People prefer others who are positive rather than those who are negative and the support base is either positive or catches the positive vibe.
How to fend off negative decision making
Negative decision making is an all too easy habit to fall into. We all have our fears which may range from being afraid of the new or what we perceive we have to give up.
There is one question which I ask myself often, but probably not often enough, to fend off the insidious nature of negative decision making.
It is: “What would you do if you were not afraid?” I ask it in my personal life and in business. When I answer it truthfully and I find that the answer is very different to the decisions I have been making, I know I have been making negative decisions rather than undertaking positive decision-making.