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Jim Collins & the DNA of good decisions

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After combing through 14 years of research, here’s what Good to Great guy Jim Collins says about the art of making decisions:
  • Great decisions come from saying “I don’t know.” “Which is best?” Collins asks: “Saying you don’t know when you’ve already made up you mind? Or presuming to know when you don’t and, therefore, lying to yourself? Or speaking the truth, which is: ‘I don’t yet know?’”

  • The higher the questions/statements ratio, the better. The best leaders Collins studied did the best job at igniting debate using Socratic questions.

    As for himself: “I tried to make heroes out of those on my team who identified flaws in my thinking,” Collins says. “At the next meeting, I might say: ‘I really want to give Leigh … credit. She really pushed my thinking, and I wasn’t looking at this right.’”

  • Deciding is not about consensus. Debate can be “violent,” but in the end, the leader makes the call. “No major decision we’ve studied was ever taken at a point of unanimous agreement,” Collins says.

  • Great decisions come from external awareness. Fabulous organizations are internally driven but externally aware.

    That means you ask:

    1. “What is driving us internally?”

    2. “What is the truth about how the outside world operates and is changing?”

    3. “When you match our drive with external realities, what can we contribute better than anyone else?”
  • Even huge decisions decide a tiny fraction of the outcome. “The big decisions are not like 60 of 100 points,” Collins says. “They’re more like six of 100 points. And there’s a whole bunch of others that are like 0.6 or 0.006.”

  • Think long-term. Real leaders manage for the quarter-century, not the quarter.

  • You can make mistakes—even big ones—and prevail. What a relief.
— Adapted from “Jim Collins on Tough Calls,” Jerry Useem, Fortune.

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