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Simplicity in the Blink of an Eye




    A few times a year, executives write about how to simplify your organization and life, starting with decision making. How do we know when we’ve come across the right answer? How do we find it? #Simplicity


    We live in a world where things move fast and sometimes the stakes are high. Information zooms past our screens and through our ears. We’re trying to process it all and make the right decisions.


    Do we take the time to weigh all the options? Or do we rely on a split second and our instincts?


    In the book Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, Malcom Gladwell writes, “We live in a world that assumes that the quality of a decision is directly related to the time and efforts that went into making it.” He challenges the reader to disassociate time with good decision-making. That’s a major mind shift for a lot of people.


    We make hundreds of decisions every day. Some carry great consequence, so it’s natural to want to spend hours, days or weeks contemplating. We don’t necessarily need more time; when faced with a fork in the road, we need to be better listeners to our inner selves.


    Some call this feeling intuition or gut. We know the terms, but how many of us pay attention or trust them? If we did, decision making at work could get simpler and faster. Let me explain with a story from the book.


    In September 1983, an art dealer approached a museum in California and said he had a rare, sixth century statue in his possession, known as a kuoros. Only about 200 exist. He wanted $10 million for it and he got it.


    But first the museum launched a 14-month investigation, X-raying the statue and analyzing its surface deposits. The statue was declared to be really old. The museum was sold and shelled out the cash.


    Later, a museum board member, a Greek sculpture expert and a former museum director all had adverse reactions in the first few seconds of seeing it. It just didn’t look or feel right to them. The museum shipped the statue to the best sculpture experts in Greece, and the snowball got bigger.


    The Greek experts had what the book described as an “intuitive repulsion.” One expert immediately felt the fingernails on the statue weren’t right. Another called it fresh within the first few moments. That’s not good for something that’s supposed to be old. The consensus was that something was off about the statue.


    So who was right? It turns out the Greek experts and their guts. The statue was a forgery. In the blink of an eye, a room full of experts was able to tell more about the statue than a 14-month scientific analysis by the museum.


    What lessons does this story teach us and how can we apply them in our professional lives?


    • Don’t ignore your “intuitive repulsion” to things: The book talks about your ability to “instantly decode the truth of a situation.” Before any conscious thought takes place, we sometimes feel something. It’s a strong emotion or physical reaction, like clammy palms, telling us there’s a problem. Sometimes you’ve got to listen to it.
    • Beware of the risks of consensus-based decisions: When you bring your team together to solve a problem, you need to be very intentional about how decisions are made. Allowing team consensus to drive the decision making is comfortable, but sometimes it can keep you from making the breakthrough you know needs to happen. When you‘re in charge, you need to trust your gut and pick the moments when you make the call versus when the team collectively makes the call.
    • Too much time on a decision can cost you money: Think about what the museum had to pay for the experts, fancy equipment and tests. Not to mention shipping a seven-foot statue to Athens. Thousands of dollars in expenses on top of the $10 million check? Over analyzing things can cost you big.
    • Believe in other people’s intuition, too: The story also teaches us that the opinions of others can be valuable. This may go against making a fast decision, but sometimes it’s necessary. Watch the reactions of the people who are your experts and give them the freedom to express what they are feeling. Our gut reactions aren’t always objective. It’s why the museum couldn’t see what the experts in the room did. The museum wanted the statue to be real and that type of enthusiasm can cloud your judgment. Always ask yourself, “Is my reaction coming from an objective place?”
    • Know the protocol of your organization: Inside of any organization there are rules and norms. While you can make a decision in the blink of an eye, make sure your boss knows what you are doing and why. Let them know you touched base with required stakeholders. Also make sure that you communicate with your team so they are bought in and support you when you execute on your decision. 


    Sometimes the simplest answer is the best one. We are often wary of quick decisions. We’re suspicious of our ability to make them, but we are wired with incredible tools inside that serve us well when we need them. Believe in the power of your instincts. Don’t deny yourself the success that they can bring to our lives.