A bias toward action means developing a decision making framework that encourages focusing on action. For all interactions then, the goal is to understand “what does this mean for action?” What action needs to be taken? What information is needed in order to take action? What action can I take to move this forward the most effectively?
Why bias toward action?
Because if you want to change the world, or make something happen, personal doubt, hesitation, pausing or stalling all threaten any chance of seeing success. The world (as a system) is generally predisposed to maintain status quo, and any change is incremental, slow and very gradual. This means there is great systemic resistance to change. There are organizational impediments and friction that make effective change difficult.
Adopting a bias toward action, allows you to at least remove your own inertia. As the driver of change it is critical that you, yourself aren’t directly adding friction to a process that’s already strongly stacked against seismic shifts. Make your own steps forward strong, productive and without friction.
The relationship between decisions and actions
Decisions and actions are examples of the same type of activity performed in two different fields. Both effectively collapse the field of potential from a wide set of options into a single path forward.
Decisions are making a commitment with your mind. Actions are making a commitment with your activity. Often you must make a decision first, which is then followed with action. Complicating this is that the initial decision is simply that action is required, and there’s a follow-on decision of what specific action.
You could think of the first decision as “Should I respond?” and the second decision as “How should I respond?”. The first is necessary, but not sufficient. Both decisions must be made in order to take action.
The similar archetype of collapsing potential means principles that apply to one can usually be applied to the other, though it is possible to confine thinking principles to low investment, where action is always a stronger commitment of resources.
We tend to prize decisions for their wisdom, and actions for their effectiveness. So a good decision considers the context, timing, experience and other variables at play, evaluates and selects the best of these. A good action moves things forward with a good return on investment of energy. Good decisions bring internal resolution. Good action brings external resolution.
Seek to disprove rather than prove
Nothing is ever proved, only disproved. If you want certainty seek to disprove your understanding. Look for why something won’t work rather than why it will. Look for how it’s weak and will fail rather than why it’s strong.
Reveal the invisibles through thought rapid experiments
When trying to make a decision use thinking techniques to force clarity Imagine you only have one option. Now imagine you have hundreds. Imagine that you’ll never have the information, what would you do? Imagine you have to make a decision right now, what’s your gut tell you? Imagine you have all the information - how does that change your move?
New is always more expensive than reuse Ask: What is the simplest way to solve this? I.e. how can do the least amount of work? How can I leverage or reuse what already exists?
Make a move that moves the process as far toward completion as possible
E.g. if you send information to someone hoping to get an answer, be specific about what and when you need an answer (to eliminate the back and forth of clarifying later)
Solve only the core question well
Focus on solving the core question/issue well Accept less that ideal accommodations for everything else
Commit to fast and forward moving instead of in partial and perfect loops
Only reconsider your decisions once you’ve solved the problem or hit a dead end
Calibrate yourself by exploring the entire problem space quickly first, then go deeper into the important parts:
High value High ambiguity/uncertainty High cost
Limit the expense of experimenting/deep investigation to important and meaningful, novel problems
High value High ambiguity/uncertainty High cost
Timebox effort to force yourself to get to resolution
Twice the effort rarely produces twice the value
A process for decision making biased toward action
- Appearance of new information
New information becomes known to you through some type of event.
Receiving an email Attending a meeting Getting a notification Receiving a text or a phone call Having a conversation Doing a search Overhearing a concern Invitation to a meeting Assigned to a bug
- Response triage
Initial triage of new information consists of trying to understand the information and it’s effect.
Does this new information change anything? If no, don’t waste time on it
Do you require more information from someone else in order to resolve? Send a specific request to the person or party that can get you the required information.
Do you need more time in order to resolve? Schedule time, communicate when others can expect answer (this now sets an expectation/commitment see 3.1)
Is there anyone else that can/should handle this? Delegate. If they are less invested than you make sure you set reminder to follow up to make sure it gets done.
- Prioritizing action
Secondary triage is about deciding on the urgency for action.
What commitments or expectations already exist to govern your response? If you’ve made commitments in the past, honor them. If you can’t - communicate immediately and proactively to reset expectations.
Does not acting block someone? It’s blocking a lot of people (team) or an important person (stakeholder, teammate) make it a priority.
How long will the effects of inaction be felt? If they will last more than a day or two make action a priority.
What are the consequences/impact of inaction?
If they are unrecoverable (e.g. loss, trust, escalation, failure) take action. Recoverable consequences (e.g. irritation, delay) may allow for delayed action.
- Taking action
Do you have all the information you need to move this to resolution? If not, work on getting the information you need.
Can you resolve some part of it, but not the whole issue? Take action to resolve the part you can Identify what else you need to resolve the rest Set things in motion on the missing pieces Schedule time to revisit
When faced with uncertainty, uncomfortable tradeoffs, or urgency, do quick thought exercises to evaluate the best path for action. Note that the focus is on getting to resolution: how to bring things to a close? What is the simplest way to resolve it? Is there a more compelling reason to make it complex? What is the fastest way to resolve it? Is there a more compelling reason work slowly? What is the most economical way to resolve it? Is there a more compelling reason to be extravagant? What is the most certain way to resolve it? Is there a more compelling reason be tentative? What is the most utilitarian way to resolve it? Is there a more compelling reason to drive for quality? What is the most permanent way to resolve it? Is there a more compelling reason to accept temporary? What is the laziest way to resolve it? Is there a more compelling reason to be ambitious?
Against these thought experiments modulate your pace and bravado against: Will you have opportunity to revisit this? If so act quickly and decisively, because you can revisit later if you need to. What is the cost of getting it wrong? If it’s not overwhelming cost, take decisive action What is the level of risk? If low-moderate, take decisive action.