Facing My Fear – Key Decision Analysis Part 8

by Ivan Mazour

Based on the tumbleweed rolling across my blog, 2019 must have been a busy year. It’s the first year in a decade that I haven’t managed to write a single post, other than my annual key decision analysis update.

But there is good reason for that. Ometria has now grown to well over 100 people after our Series B this year. My work currently takes between 55 and 70 hours each week (I track my hours and optimise). And my family is the focus for all other hours, which leaves little time, and little creative space to write. I’d like to get my working hours down to a more reasonable regular 50 per week, although I’m not sure that 2020 is going to be the year I succeed in that, so this might just end up being the only post of this year too. I’d better make it good.

I recently had the privilege of meeting General Stanley McChrystal and hearing him give a small private talk. He talked about how leadership in a military environment came down to one thing. Judgement. Long-time readers will know this already, but for almost a decade, I’ve written down every major decision I’ve made in a little book (well, lots of little books), so that I can come back to it exactly a year later and evaluate whether my instincts were right. You can’t improve what you don’t measure, and this is my process of continually improving my ability to make good decisions. Of improving my judgement.

This morning I evaluated all of the decisions I made in 2018, and the outcomes of them over the past year. For the eighth year in a row, just as I wrote on the 1st of January 2019, 1st of January 2018, 1st of January 2017, 1st of January 2016, 1st of January 2015, 1st of January 2014 and 1st of January 2013, here is my list of learnings from my analysis today.

There are always themes in what I learned over the year, and it’s amazing how many of them this year focus around one emotion. Fear. 2018 was a year of some huge decisions for me, both at work and in my personal life. After analysing the outcomes, all the major mistakes I made were caused by me giving in to fear, and all the good decisions were ones where I faced my fear and overcame it. Here are four things I’ll work hard to no longer be afraid of.

1. Don’t be afraid of change.

Multiple times over the course of 2018, I faced a situation where I knew the status quo wasn’t right. There were individuals at work. There were professional services providers. There were old personal financial decisions. In each case I faced a strong fear of change. In one case I gave in to fear and made a huge financial mistake by allowing myself to believe an irrational argument my mind made up – a false argument that prevented me from taking action. In another I overcame my fear, and made a people-related change which helped my company flourish. Either way, the main learning here is to be aware of how much fear impacts all the main decisions which I make, and to ensure I work through them with my coach or trusted advisors and make sure that I really am making the right decision for the right reasons.

2. Don’t be afraid of people.

The fear is so much greater when the decision affects other people. And when you’re in a position of leadership, that’s basically all the time. Fear that the decision will impact them negatively. Fear that if you don’t make the decision it will impact others negatively. Fear that they will react irrationally. Fear that people are irreplaceable. All of these are emotional reactions, which by their very nature exaggerate the reality of the situation. An honest and open conversation with the person will remove the fear, and enable a resolution with the optimal outcome for everyone. It has every single time until now. That one step solves everything. I just need to remember that every time I face that fear.

3. Don’t be afraid to re-examine your beliefs.

When something has been happening for a long time, or when we learned a deeply-held belief at a young age, realising that it’s no longer correct is much harder than we think it is. While I consider myself a mostly rational and logical individual, so many of my 2018 decisions demonstrated otherwise. Financial decisions I had been making for years are now, in hindsight, obviously sub-optimal. The same is true for several people I had in my life. Hard though it is to do, we need to force ourselves to re-examine long-standing beliefs based on the most current information, and to make sure that what we thought was right is still right today. Often, it won’t be.

4. Don’t be afraid of the impossible.

Multiple times in 2018 I had to back my team and myself to achieve what was by any definition of probability practically impossible. Such an unlikely concatenation of events needed to be put together to achieve the outcome that the obvious choice would have been to not even try. And yet, each time, with careful planning and excellent execution, it worked out. There’s something about building a tech company that puts you through these situations over and over and helps you realise that nothing is impossible, and that if you want to achieve anything meaningful then you’ll have to keep putting your fear aside and just make it happen. Last year I wrote about how we were about to make another intense decision to double down and accelerate ahead of our Series B. It was terrifying. But it was also exhilarating. And it was totally the right decision.

The second theme from my 2018 decisions focuses on something I used to think was a good thing. Complexity. As my company scales, as my family grows, as years just go by, the complexity in my life continually increases. I used to enjoy it as a mental challenge. But at some point it got too extreme. So I had a choice – either continue letting it grow out of control, or take charge of it.

5. For anything that’s not a priority, the goal should be to minimise complexity.

At Ometria we use OKRs, and I use a similar goal-setting approach in my personal life too. I know what my priorities are, and what I need to focus on. The big lesson from 2018 was to reduce complexity in all other areas. This was hugely intertwined with points 1 and 3 above – the fear of change, and of re-evaluating my beliefs. For example, my original entrepreneurial beliefs came from a book called Rich Dad Poor Dad, and believing that real estate was the only path to freedom and success. What it really is is a path to being a property manager – something I have no interest in. I’m now a big believer in the FIRE movement (well the FI part anyway), and in 2018 I learned that in order to focus on my family and on Ometria, all other elements of my life, including my investments for example, should be simplified to the extreme.

6. If you have an ongoing drag, cut it and accept the loss.

Making the significant changes needed to minimise complexity isn’t easy, but it’s made even harder by the sunk cost fallacy. A bit like being half-way through a bad book, you might feel like you’re too far into a decision to cut it. I had a significant personal matter that took up many hours each week, but which I felt committed to finish for both loyalty and financial reasons. Every week I would waste more hours on it – time that I could have been spending with my family. But letting go of it felt like wasting the many years of my life I’d put into it. However I made the decision in 2018 to let it go, and instead of wasting the many years of life, it has given me many future hours of time back. That matter took away from the two things I care about – my family and Ometria – and removing it was the best decision I made that year.

The rest of my learnings this year come down to people, and in particular to one aspect of them. Alignment. In so many different areas of my life, whether at Ometria, or in my professional relationships, or in my personal ones, I had examples of great alignment, and examples of terrible alignment, which made me realise quite how important that concept is.

7. There is a perfect person out there

So often it feels like there just won’t be someone out there who will do something with as much care as you will. I’ve had many examples. Something as simple as trusting someone to bring my mother, who is almost 80, some food on a regular basis. Or as complex as someone to run a large part of Ometria. Both of these are such important, such personal decisions, and yet in both cases, once I overcame my irrational fear, I was able to find perfect people – people who took over those responsibilities in a much better way than me. Last year I wrote about the importance of defining responsibilities clearly. This year I’ve learned that for any set of responsibilities, the perfect person is out there. You just have to find them.

8. Alignment comes before capability

When choosing the right person, alignment has to come before capability. Values have to come before competence. They have to be aligned with your objectives, your values and your approach. If they aren’t, then being able to do the job is irrelevant, as the job they’ll do will almost certainly not be the one you need done. One of my professional providers, an extremely capable firm and individual within it, was totally misaligned with my objectives across 2018. I kept on being taken in by their experience and ability, but the outcomes kept on being wrong. It took me a year to realise that I needed to replace them, and that I should have started with making sure the alignment was right.

9. But capability is still necessary

Last year I wrote about the importance of experience. But there is a big difference between having knowledge or experience, and having the capability to execute what needs executing. Even if you’re sure that someone is aligned with your objectives and values, and you’re sure they have the knowledge and experience, you still need to validate that they have the capability to deliver what needs delivering. I’ve now seen so many exceptional people struggle with the last part, even though the first two were absolutely spot on. And at that point you have a tough decision to make about supporting them, or finding an alternative. But see point 2 above.

10. When someone has the alignment and capability then let them run because magic will happen.

I made two separate specific people decisions in 2018 where I didn’t let fear cloud my judgement and took a risk. In both cases the individuals were fully aligned with our objectives, and I had a strong instinct that they had the intrinsic aptitude for a significant step forward. All they needed was some guidance, and to be given the opportunity to prove themselves. Both of them absolutely transformed themselves over the course of the year in a way that has inspired me, and all others around them, about just how much people can change, develop and improve. They continue to surprise and inspire me today, well over a year after the initial decision.

These are the ten lessons I’ll be taking with me into 2020. The only way to get away from making bad decisions is to stop making them, which is itself just a bad decision. So all we can do is try to minimise the number of wrong ones, and maximise the number of right ones. I hope these learnings help you with that as much as they help me.

My best wishes to you for 2020. May it bring you clarity over what will make you and the people around you happy, and clarity over the path to get there.


Find out more on the about Ivan Mazour page.
And watch Ivan Mazour's TEDx Talk - "Why we shouldn't be scared of sharing our personal data".

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