Why did I decide to write ‘Decide’?

Advertising people are notorious for staying in their comfort zone. In some respects adland is like showbiz and sport, womblike worlds where it is so much easier to spend your time with those who understand you and speak the same language.

So deciding to write a book encouraging strangers from the dangerous outside world to take a major life skill seriously, and get better at it was a bit of a departure. What on earth made me do it?

Years of first-hand experience of the choosing/selection process at AAI had given me some unique insights into what works with marketing and management teams, and what is most unlikely to. For an even longer period – going back to my experiences at AC Nielsen and Pritchard Wood & Partners (my first agency, where account planning was invented) in the 1960s – I had been involved in the implications of predicting and understanding the way consumers make decisions about this brand and that.

But I was keen to understand more about decision making on a wider front. We all juggle our lives, so decision-making is a crucial skill in everything from choosing a career to choosing a partner, from deciding on a house to deciding on a holiday. I recognised that my personal track record as a decider was distinctly average. So I started reading voraciously to make sure I understood where the established experts – academics, the consultants and the behavioural economics populists – were coming from.

Then I blogged about decision making. Relentlessly. Before delivering the manuscript of Decide, I had blogged no less than 75,000 words on www.makingbetterdecisionsbetter.com in a year. I wrote about decision making per se, but also about decisions in all the fields that interest me from politics to marketing, from sport to the media. I wrote about brilliant decisions and bad decisions. I wrote about things that made me laugh, and things that made me cry with frustration.

The blogging gave me a platform, but the interviews with ‘great deciders’ gave me priceless inputs. My debt to this inspiring group of individuals is immense. I learned so much from these people – not least how generous they were prepared to be in sharing experiences and ideas, as well as giving me their time.

As I in turn share the anecdotes, examples and learnings with you in the course of the book, you will spot inevitable differences between how famous achievers choose and decide. But I am confident you will also see the similarities and common factors. For many of the people I interviewed, dreams and ambitions arrived at a very early age – often before the tenth birthday. They were able to explain to me how important these influences had been. Several of the ‘great deciders’ have also had – later in life – the courage to make radical life changes, often for far more hours, and far less money. My interviewees all could identify the particular opportunity, challenge or problem that prompted a really big decision. Almost all gave gut feel as their main driver in making decisions, having gone through looking at options and assessing risks. The interviews gave me a profound respect for their determination. One can’t fail to be impressed not just by their decisions, but by the way they made those decisions.

Let me summarise the key learnings that came out of my research, the interviews, and the soul-searching and analysis that followed:

• Decision making isn’t easy, but it’s possible – and important – to get better at it
• Logic and rationality is a good place to start, but gut feel, emotion, instinct are indispensable drivers
• It is highly instructive to understand the common threads that conspire to make decisions fail, but knowing what won’t work is no guarantee that you can get it right yourself
• To do that, it’s vital to take on board three key factors:
1. The time available for making the decision
2. The personality profiles of the people involved and the implications of that on teamwork
3. The fact that identifying and realising opportunities is a far higher order skill than mere problem-solving
• Making a decision is one thing. Communicating it in the best way is crucial
• Implementation is in the end what determines how good the decision was.

I am a great believer in the third journey of life. That’s the privileged time when having learned all you can (Journey #1), and having been hired and paid for what you know (Journey #2), you are in a position to share knowledge and help others. In the end I wrote Decide to encourage others to become better deciders.