When Can You Rethink A Decision?

You made a decision yesterday, last week, even a month ago, and you’re happy about it. Now, you uncover more data. That data threatens your decision. What should you do? Stick with the original decision? Change that decision?

Can you even rethink that decision?

Sometimes, we use the sunk cost fallacy to stick with old decisions. We spent time (and maybe money) deciding. We’re so invested in our position that we attach to the outcome.

When that occurs, we can’t rethink a decision. Literally, we cannot imagine we need to rethink a choice we made before.

I see this in politics all the time. Worse, I see this in organizations, and of course, in our personal decisions.

I’m not going to address politics—not going there!!

However, let’s explore what happens when people in organizations don’t rethink their positions.

Rethink at Work

I’ve seen several examples of organizations that have thrived during the pandemic:

  • Lucky organizations. They already created products or services that enhanced the ability of people to work remotely.
  • Pivoting organizations. They pivoted their offerings. Some of them did this well, some not so well.
  • Rethinking organizations. They returned to their original strategy questions: Who do we serve? Are those clients who have money to spend? What do those people need now?

If you can be lucky, that’s terrific. In all seriousness, some people told me they planned to be in this place at this time. I’m not good at predicting the future of products and services, so maybe they can see what I don’t see. It looks like luck to me.

When organizations pivot, they rethink in the small—which is great. Especially if you need to make money now. However, if you work for a pivoting organization that didn’t rethink its strategy, you might lurch from one idea to another. You don’t have an overarching goal.

What about those rethinking organizations? Just rethinking the strategy isn’t enough. If they don’t create small experiments and learn from those experiments, they might thrash, trying to find that one right strategy.

I’ve never seen thinking create the One Right Strategy. I’ve only seen action and learning (experiments) create an ongoing strategy.

Which is why I’m such a huge fan of experiments, especially in our personal lives.

Rethink in Our Personal Lives

My personal life is tied to my work. I don’t know how to separate the two of them. That’s why I run a lot of small experiments to see what happens.

I can’t tell which books will sell a lot—and which books won’t. I can’t tell which of my consulting offerings will take off like a rocket and which will fall like a dud.

That’s why I choose to rethink my strategy—a lot. Who do I want to reach, with what kind of an offering? How many ways do I want to offer which content? As an example, I tried to make my writing workshops mostly self-study. That’s when I realized that if I added more touchpoints, the participants wrote more.

Am I responsible for their writing? No. They are. However, if I can facilitate more writing? That’s when I learn from their struggles. I rethought how I wanted to offer those particular workshops.

I’ve also rethought all my other workshops. My clients gain a lot more value when I offer a workshop in chunks. The managers think the workshop takes time away from work, but the participants say they start to integrate what they learn with their work right away.

In that way, I got lucky. The pandemic created an environment where we all could experiment with how we delivered and participated in online learning.

Beware of the Sunk Cost Fallacy for Decisions

I see the sunk cost fallacy all the time, for everyone. If you ever said, “I couldn’t do that,” and didn’t add an “until now,” you might be suffering under the sunk cost fallacy.

However, life demands we rethink decisions all the time. We gain or lose weight—we need new clothes. We need different housing at different times in our lives. Even the weather might demand we rethink when we leave the house. Or how we do.

The more we stick with old decisions based on old data, the less adaptable we are. That doesn’t fit for me. I work to build adaptability into my entire life. I hope you do, too.

That’s the question this week: When can you rethink a decision?

3 thoughts on “When Can You Rethink A Decision?

  1. Sascha

    Thanks, Johanna, for these ideas and reflections. I like “agile decision making” and very like the consent decision making process from S3. You can object to a proposal if the proposal endangers the organization or does stand in the way of a more effective response? You can (and should) ask this question anytime – also after you made a decision. I think it helps therefore with the rethinking of decisions…

    1. Johanna Post author

      Sascha, you’re welcome. I have not yet used S3, but if it offers you (and your clients) value, that’s terrific!

  2. Pingback: Five Blogs – 5 February 2021 – 5blogs

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