choices and decisions in life and business

What will you do when something isn’t working?

Like most people, myself included, we look for solutions outside of us.

Last year, someone engaged me to boost her signup rates for her education centre targeting students around prime locations.

During our discussion, this lady suggested a lot of great ideas to expand her business.

She also engaged a couple of designers, consultants and digital marketers in the past to help her.

Then, I noticed something.

Nothing much has moved over the years.

Her website is outdated.

My appointments with her were changed at last minute notice.

When I visited her centres, it look disorganised and cluttered.

I also observed that she repeats herself and was distracted by her phone messages.

She appeared zoned out sometimes.

Occasionally, she would cut in and suggested ideas that are irrelevant to our discussion.

Besides, she was easily led by other people’s agenda. I happened to be there on one of those sessions. I was supposed to meet her and she ended up meeting her friend first. In the end, two-third of our time was spent on listening to her friend’s pitch on her new business!

All these signs indicated to me that her mental space was her biggest obstacle.

The solution to growing her centre wasn’t really about marketing or sales yet as what she thought.

When you cloud your sensory awareness, presence and energy with stuffs that don’t really matter, it impacts all other aspects of your life.

This includes your decision-making, creativity, leadership and health on a daily basis.

When one area suffers distractions, the rest are affected because they are fighting for your limited attention bandwidth.

How are we fighting against ourselves?

Every day, we are faced with information, decisions and experiences to process.

Our brains are looking for ways to save energy and time.

Thus, we develop heuristics to do that – mental shortcut that allows people to solve problems and make judgments quickly and efficiently.

That’s why we have cognitive and unconscious bias.

They are there for a purpose.

While they exist to help us to be more efficient and effective in this complex world, they also limit us by creating blindspots.

Our cognitive biases can distort how we perceive reality, what we pay attention to and hence our actions and decisions.

Knowing where to hit.

This is a classic metaphor of a factory with 1000 workers production that broke down.

Everything stop.

The managers are scrambling around, wondering what went wrong with the production line system.

They called in the specialists and technicians, trying to troubleshoot it.

But still, nothing move.

Then an expert was called in.

He walked around, examine the system and go to this part of the machine, hit it, tighten the screws around that and the whole factory came back to life.

When asked for his fee on that, he said $1000.

The boss of the factory asked, “why $1000??? You only did this small thing!!!”

This expert replied, “Here’s the bill breakdown… $1 for doing that thing and $999 for knowing where to hit.”

While this metaphor sounds cool, how can you overcome biases and leverage on this in real life?

What Chef Jiro and great masters have in common?

It was through a documentary film Jiro Dreams of Sushi that I got to know about this great master chef.

Apparently, Sukiyabashi Jiro sushi restaurant in Ginza was awarded 3 stars by Michelin Guide.

What makes him so extraordinary that you need to book three months in advance before you can show up at his restaurant?

When interviewed, he dismissed the notion that he is the ‘God of sushi’.

He simply dedicated his life to the basic principles of sushi making. He is always working to improve his skills everyday.

Like many other great masters, they build their mastery from ground up – the first principles.

They don’t do it the way it has always been done.

They don’t simply follow what others have been doing.

They go back to the fundamentals.

For a master chef like Jiro, he understands the nuances of his ingredients and the building blocks of sushi making. He hone his senses as a chef, necessary in his craft. He don’t follow recipes. He created his own version, all from first principles.

Likewise, in fine-tuning your decision-making process, there are some fundamental principles you can go back to by asking yourself the following questions, be it in your business, career or in life.

Clarify – What is the real outcome here?

Many times, we tend to make decisions that are interesting and fascinating.

And they can be detractors to the real outcome here.

Therefore, there are many people chasing after shiny objects, one after another and they never succeed.

Today, someone say Facebook is the thing. And you’ll see people rushing into creating ads.

Tomorrow, someone says video marketing is the thing. And you’ll see people posting videos all over the place.

The reality is, these people never get to see through their efforts. They tried for a while and gave up because they aren’t seeing results. So they start blaming Facebook ads and videos for not working.

Before you jump into a decision, ask yourself, “what’s the real purpose or objective here?”

Whatever that pops into your mind, ask yourself again, “so what?”

There’s another approach to clarify your motivation behind the decision you are going to make.

Developed by award-winning faculty member at Yale School of Medicine, Michael Pantalon, you can use these two questions to uncover your real motivation.

First, ask yourself, on a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 means “not ready at all” and 10 means “totally ready”, how ready are you to pursue this?

After you rated where you are at (the number isn’t important), go on to the next question,

“Why didn’t you pick a lower number?”

What this does is that it gets you to articulate your real reason behind.

Identify – What is the real problem here?

Another classic metaphor for this is the story of a man looking for his keys.

Initially, he tried searching for his keys in his house. Unfortunately, he couldn’t turn the lights on as the circuit was tripped.

So he decided to go outside to search, where there is light.

Another man saw what he was doing and asked him. Eventually, he joined in the search to help this guy.

After a while, failing the find the keys, the stranger asked this man, “where did you lose the keys?”

The man replied, “in my house.”

Puzzled, the stranger questioned, “then why are you searching for your keys out here?”

The man said, “because this is where it is the brightest.”

Often, the most obvious places aren’t where you think the problem is.

Just like the case of the lady wanting to engage me to help in her marketing, the real problem is to get her mental clutters and priorities sorted first. Otherwise, whatever marketing solutions proposed would simply defeat the purpose.

Identifying the right problem to tackle is 80% of the battle won.

To identify the right problem that has the highest impact, start by observing and gathering data on what’s working and what’s not working.

Many people think that their bottlenecks have got to do with these:

  • Time
  • Money
  • Expertise or capability
  • People

The problem is, these bottlenecks are too vague to identify the real problems.

The real bottleneck is often how we perceive our problems.

There are people who manage to thrive and succeed despite time being tight, not enough funds, not being the expert in the area of concern and not having those people they think they should work with.

If you find it tricky to get clarity and to identify the real problem, I highly recommend you to engage someone else who has a different lens to work with you.

Explore – What are the multiple alternatives or options?

After clarifying your real outcome and identified the real problem, it’s time to explore the options available.

While you can’t possibly get down to explore all the alternatives, you can definitely go beyond one or two choices.

The reason why people are stuck with one to two choices is because they go with their immediate preferences.

Especially when something looks comfortable, familiar and attractive on the front, it piques your interest.

The closer you are to something, the more distorted your view is, till the point that it is the only thing you see.


That’s where your decisions can be skewed.

Here are the areas to validate your options.

  • Impact – What is the impact of this option?
  • Reach – How many people will this decision potentially impact? Who are they?
  • Confidence – What is your level of confidence in executing this option?
  • Efforts – How much effort is required for this?

I’ve cover extensively on a process to prioritise your options in this resource guide.

Assess – What are the implications?

In chess playing, a powerful chess piece in a weak position is a weak chess piece.

Assessing the implications of your decision or choice is similar to thinking like a chess grandmaster.

They are trained to look for a set of patterns. They are thinking a couple of moves ahead because they understand where the patterns lead to. Not only that, they know how will their opponent respond to those moves.

And this involves knowing what your ‘endgame’ is.

In business sense, are you trying to sell your products or services or are you offering a path of transformation that people want to buy? These two approaches create different implications.

As an example, when it comes to Facebook, many people see it as a social media and advertising platform.

But for Dennis Yu, Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer of BlitzMetrics, a digital marketing company, he sees Facebook as a database, rather than a platform.

Only by knowing the implications of what you are dealing with, you can see your choices differently.

That’s why Dennis created the dollar-a-day strategy, not to game the system, but to learn from it. He knows the implications of Facebook A.I algorithm. Which means, he can leverage on that to test things. This helps to refine his strategy of getting the brand seen by a wider audience in the cheapest way.

That is an entirely different strategy from most people who sees Facebook as a platform and trying to sell their products or services.

To assess your choices, walk through the various scenarios and how things might play out in each.

Then assess the following:

  • Who are the people impacted?
  • What are the trade-offs involved?
  • Which options are within your capacity to handle?
  • Which are the ones that will get you closer to the real outcome?

I’ve also detailed a process for knowing your landscape and its implications when it comes to positioning your message.

Though major decisions also come with uncertainties, with the above first principles, you can navigate your choices wisely.

Currently, what decisions are bothering you?

Let’s connect and talk.