““Shall I show you the sinews of a philosopher? ‘What sinews are those?’ A will undisappointed; evils avoided; powers daily exercised; careful resolutions; unerring decisions.”” – Juvenal, from Epictetus

Some of the decisions you face are major. (“Should I quit this job and go into business for myself?”) But most of them are minor. (Should I put Sally on commission? Should I wear that tie to meet my banker? Should I launch this new product with promotion A or B?)

Small Decisions. Big Results.

I was reminded of this by two recent experiences. A nutritional-supplement business I consult with was foundering (if not floundering) because of mediocre marketing and a large overhead. It had gotten so bad that, in desperation, we considered selling the business to a competitor. This led, indirectly, to two decisions – neither of which seemed monumental at the time. One was to trim the staff to its bare bones. The other was to try a marketing piece we had on the back burner.

The result? Before we could finish our negotiations, the business had turned around completely. Three months later, it paid off all its debt and was taking in a very healthy monthly profit.

Another company I am close to was chugging along nicely but had no apparent prospects of breaking into a higher level of profitability. Against my better judgment, they tested a continuity offer. (Until then, the business was strictly cash-with-order.) The result? The business doubled in less than a year.

Small decisions.

Remember the story I told in Message #149 about Grolier Encyclopedia’s move into telemarketing? This story is not only a great example of the principle of cooperation (the subject of that message) but also a great example of the way a simple decision can save a company. To make a long story short, Grolier was about to go out of business when its competitor, Time-Life, shared information about its secret marketing weapon: a call center that was upgrading a high percentage of orders. Grolier’s publishers made the decision to move into telemarketing immediately – and today the company enjoys revenues of more than $300 million, 25% of which is generated from telemarketing.

Small decisions. They add up to success or failure.

How Do You Make The Right Decisions?

In the midst of the flurry that is normal business, how do you make sure that most of your decisions are moving you closer to — rather than farther away from — your objectives?

It ain’t easy. The pressure is on. You have no time to waste. Everybody is shouting. What do you choose? Door No. 1 or door No. 2? Decide quickly! But decide right! Your future is at stake!

You are a child frantically searching for Easter eggs. Dozens of other kids are competing with you. Which way do you go? Turn right or left? Look under the bushes or behind the tree? You want to hear a familiar voice, Mom’s or Dad’s, shouting, “Warmer . . . warmer . . . no, colder . . . colder still . . . yes, warmer, warmer . . . .”

If Only.

JSN, mentor major and former partner, had an uncanny instinct for making the right decisions. I always marveled at it. Two equally impressive job candidates? He could spot the fraud. Price the magazine at $25 or $50? His guess was almost always right. Headlines? Fahgeddabowdit! He was the master at choosing the right rhetorical hook.

How did he do it? That’s what I wanted to know. For years.

Finally, though, I think I’ve figured it out. As smart a guy as JSN was, his mind was relatively simple when it came to business decisions. For him, business was about profit. And profit was good.

For me the purpose of business was a more complicated thing. Profit was, undeniably, one goal, but there were many others. Any decision I faced had to be studied through a prism of considerations – how would this affect product quality? What would customers say? What would my competitors think?

For JSN any particular decision was a choice between one clear thing and another. For me it was a road that split into a dozen directions, one toward danger, another toward greed, still another toward conflict and another toward the very fires of hell.

JSN was very good at making money. He still is.

I have benefited from observing him. Nowadays, when I am asked to choose, I always ask myself, “Which choice will make the most money?”

Such an easy question. So seldom asked simply.

Easily Understood, Seldom Practiced

I am involved in many businesses. I have many partners. Some of them are very smart. Some of them are talented. But those who are best at business tend to be able to think simply when it comes to key decisions.

Those who get slowed down by “what ifs” and “if onlys” tend to see their businesses stall. If they can’t come to a decision, how can they expect their subordinates to?

Having what is conventionally thought of as a complex mind is not an advantage in business. In fact, I wonder if it is an advantage at all. Someone once told me that people who think a lot are unhappy people. I read somewhere else that psychological studies say the happiest people are those who have the least subtle minds. If those observations are true, we might want to add this one: Businesspeople who think less make more.

If you suffer from a complex mind, don’t despair. You probably can’t simplify your thinking entirely (except by doing something that is likely to hurt a lot), but you can make your business decisions simpler.

Here’s what I do: First I remember that my business has only two goals – to provide good advice and to profit from it. All other considerations – and there are many of them – are secondary. When I’m bogged down, I search them out in my thinking. Search and destroy.

If you allow yourself only two criteria for figuring out what to do in any given case, the decisions will come much easier. Forget about every other consideration. Will it help your customer? Will it improve the bottom line?

Yes or No? Answer it!

That’s how I do it. Hope it works for you.

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