The Practice of Navia Aut Caput

The first manned flight. The naming of Portland, Oregon. A foot ball game.

All three have one thing in common: a coin toss  the practice of throwing a coin in the air to make a decision based on an outcome – either heads or tails.

It’s interesting to see how this has become common practice in today’s culture – the NFL, politics (a high school friend won the election as mayor to break a tie), the New Zealand lottery – all with the intent of making a decision. The premise behind this is that those who do so believed the chance of the outcome was an expression of divine will.

But even more interesting is the fact that a corresponding action came about as a result of the decision, regardless of the outcome. Think of it this way. Say you want to do a coin toss to decide whether or not to pursue a new career or to break a bad habit: heads you pursue a new career or break the bad habit, tails you do nothing. Whatever the outcome is, your action will be based out of it – the decision.

Too bad we were not taught how to make decisions in school. We spent years trying to learn and master concepts and theories that apply to our specific fields of interest. But decision making? Conditional constructs in computer programming like the “if-then-else” expression are practical applications of decision making. But life is much more complicated than bits of ones and zeroes.

In my work as a consultant, I have the wonderful opportunity to meet and interact with really smart people. But these same people would rather be experts at what they do than consider a management position like a manager or a director. When asked why, the two most common responses are that (1) they don’t want the additional responsibility and (2) they would rather have someone make decisions.  Notice that these responses pertain to both decision and action. And action is a by-product of the decisions we make. Recall the last time you let an opportunity pass by because you didn’t make a decision and, therefore, didn’t take action?

Complex decision making is a skill. Some people are really good at it while others accept the fact that they just don’t have it. Like riding a bike or tuning a SQL statement, it can be learned. Nobody was born with great decision making skills. But like any other skill, you have to keep doing it to become really good. You’ll make good decisions and bad decisions. Learn as much as you can from the bad decisions so you can improve your good decision making skills. Practice. Apply. Rinse. Repeat. Recall the decisions that you’ve made in the previous year that led to where you are right now. Imagine where you would be in a year from now based on the decisions that you will make.

Decide how you want your future to look like. A coin toss might not be a good idea.

P.S. Your quality of life is directly proportional to the amount of good decisions that you’ll make. Similarly, the people who are moving ahead in life are not necessarily smarter than you. They just learned how to develop their good decision making skills over time.

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