Christmas is a time when the hectic life of even the busiest entrepreneur shifts down a gear, mostly as a personal choice on our part to spend time with our family and the people closest to us. It is also a great opportunity to reflect, and every Christmas I take this chance to go through a few strategies which let me see how my life has gone, and which let me direct where I would like it to go in the coming year. One of these strategies I find to be the most important and valuable – I call it Key Decision Analysis.
I believe that life is far too fast-paced for us to be able to make rational, carefully thought-out, decisions all the time. This completely contradicts my mathematical upbringing and training, but is something I have come to realise throughout my twenties. We need a way of keeping up with the constant barrage of decisions, even when the inevitable ‘decision fatigue’ sets in. The only way to do this, I find, is to act on instinct, but this only works if your instincts are correct. They cannot be correct all the time, of course, but if we can maximise the chance of making the right decision by instinct, then we have a strategy for coping with a complicated and highly productive life.
To sharpen my instincts, I keep a monthly journal of all key decisions which I make – decisions that could be truly life changing – and my instinctive reasons for why I made them. I go back only after exactly a year has passed, and I note down whether the decision was correct, and more importantly whether my instincts were right. At the end of the year, I go over all twelve months worth of notes, and search for any patterns amongst all of the right and wrong choices.
This is not a short-term strategy, as you can tell. In fact it takes exactly two years from the day you start following it, to the time that you can get some useful insights to sharpen your instincts. Keeping a diary of decisions has other uses, and there are many ways of getting an overview of your life prior to this, but it is only after the two years have passed that a genuine clear pattern presents itself.
Here are my lessons for this year. Each of them is based on a number of choices I made, using my instincts, in 2011, the outcomes of which I then noted down in 2012.
1. Anticipate potential deterioration in health, family and finances well in advance.
This is something that I am extremely grateful for, as the decisions I made were correct. While young, we can get fooled into thinking that our health will always hold up, or that our parents will never get old, or that we will find some sort of miracle way to solve any financial difficulties which arise. This does not work, and will only lead to regret. By planning ahead in all of these aspects, I have ended up looking back with intense relief and gratitude for having been prepared.
2. Do not delegate important decisions to other people, even if you feel that you simply don’t have the capacity to handle it.
Not having the energy to be in charge of a project yourself, and another person having the ability to manage that project successfully must not be confused for being the same thing. Unless you can be certain that the other person has the right level of ability, it is vital to remain involved personally, as I should have done in a number of projects.
3. Discard bad people and assets brutally.
This includes financial assets such as investments, but also includes personal relationships, friends, business partners and employees. This lesson is particularly relevant to people with the disposition to want everyone to like them, and to stay away from conflict, and I grew up exactly like that. By not wanting to hurt people’s feelings, or wanting to hide from interpersonal conflict, you only end up causing damage to your business, team integrity, personal relationships and your life in general. If your instincts say that a deal is bad, or a person in your life is not right, they must be cut out immediately.
4. Be extremely meticulous when setting up anything complex or long-term.
This has two aspects to it. Firstly, following on from the point above, be very cautious when choosing people to work with as partners, consultants, investors or employees. It is easy to see an opportunity, feel a connection, and dive straight in, but things do not always continue in the same way. From now on I will take my time to get to know the person, get an understanding of their values, and get opinions from others to back up my own picture of them. Secondly, ensuring that any legal structuring is thought-out and completed properly at the start. This includes agreements, contracts, ownership documentation, accounting and filing, as well as many other smaller details. All of these matters are only relevant when something goes wrong, and things only go wrong later on, so in order to be prepared for this almost inevitable eventuality, all of the work must be put in at the start, and it must be done perfectly.
5. Follow your heart when choosing what to dedicate your life to, and always think big.
This is by far the most important lesson, and it has come through a combination of a large number of decisions, from returning to Cambridge, to closing down some of my old companies. The scale of your vision depends almost entirely on the people you are surrounded by, and the things they aspire to achieve. Over the past years I have met many people doing remarkable things, and realised how small-minded my goals and dreams used to be. It has been a beautifully eye-opening experience to first realise that the world was full of so many possibilities, and then to realise that those possibilities were open to me as well.
These suggestions may seem obvious, and chances are I had come across other people suggesting them before. But it is only when you have certain experiences, and then analyse them, that you genuinely understand the true meaning behind these lessons, and the Key Decision Analysis approach is what helped me to do it.
What are some of your lessons from the past year, and plans for the new year?
Best wishes for 2013. May your dreams come true, and be grand in their scale!