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  • Writer's pictureJalal Ali

Defining Parameters: A First and Vital Step in Decision Making



In my blog post on the framework for making rational decisions, I mentioned that the rationality doesn’t lie in the decision itself or it’s outcome, but in how the decision is being made; what processes or models you used in making the decision. One of my most basic yet powerful models is to define decision parameters and absolutely abide those parameters. Let me first share what I mean by decision parameters.

Thinking of parameters reminds me of my friend, Tyler Waye, a leadership strategist based here in Edmonton, Canada. He recently shared the below image via his twitter which differentiates between vision and values. He defined values as:

“What are you unwilling to let go of?”

I must say I have never come across a better, neater and simpler definition of values.

This is exactly what I think about decision parameters — what will I not compromise on? Parameters in decision making are no different than values in life. Defining parameters not only helps you filter and narrow your choices but also gives a clear sense of direction.

I have personally experienced and observed first-hand that life’s big decisions like buying a house, car, making an investment, choosing a partner, career or business etc. without parameters leads to fickle-mindedness. Fickle-minded is one who is more prone to casual change and therefore changes his mind quickly due to the lack of focus and direction. This type of person is likely to be frustrated in the process of making a decision.

A more scientific evidence is provided by two Harvard psychologists, Matthew Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert, when they published their paper on ‘A Wandering Mind Is an Unhappy Mind’ in 2010. The purpose of their study was to find out whether, as suggested by most philosophical and religious traditions, a focus, present or living in the moment mind leads to happiness and a wandering mind leads to unhappiness. They concluded that “...a human mind is a wandering mind, and a wandering mind is an unhappy mind.” and a focused and present mind is a happy mind.

Having said that, by no means am I suggesting that we should not let our mind wander at all. But it is important to define boundaries for your mind to wander in. In fact, Jeff Bezos, Founder, and CEO of Amazon and now the richest person on earth, recently said in an interview:

“I believe in the power of wandering. All of my best decisions in business and in life have been made with heart, intuition and guts. Not analysis.”

But what you will find interesting is that even though he allowed his mind to wander, he never compromised on some decision parameters:

  • Obsess over customers, not competitors

  • Experiment vigorously, fail often to invent

  • Start small

  • Think long-term, live in the future

Next time you need to make a decision, ask yourself: What will I not compromise on?

Here are some of Jeff Bezo’s quotes that I found relevant:

“The secret sauce of Amazon, where there are several principles, but the number one thing that has made us successful by far is obsessive, compulsive focus on the customer, as opposed to obsession over the competitor.”

"If you're going to invent, it means you're going to experiment, and you'll have to think long-term,"

"Big things start small. The biggest oak starts from an acorn,"

"You've got to be willing to let that acorn grow into a little sapling, and then finally into a small tree and then maybe one day it'll be a big business on its own.

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