Tag Archives: decision making

Book Review: Essentialism by Greg McKeown

Being overwhelmed can be beneficial if it leads you to understand you cannot have it all. Steeped in this fallacious boosterism throughout the 1970s and 1980s, baby boomers, in particular, swallowed it hook, line, and sinker to their unending frustration. Only by contracting out such difficult responsibilities like child rearing have many been able to fool themselves into believing they can have it all.

While generally skeptical of the idea that I could have it all, only after years of slow business growth, lack of satisfaction in my interpersonal relationships, and spiritual emptiness was I convinced about its mendacity. When I narrowed my focus I made meaningful progress. My journey as an Intentionalist began.

So when one of my Facebook fans recommended Greg McKeown’s new book Essentialiam: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less I ordered a copy right away.

Highly readable, the book makes its case for becoming an Essentialist. McKeown sets forth a three-step process through which you explore what is essential in your life, eliminate the nonessential, and execute the vital few things you identified in the first step.

Steeped as I am in living intentionally, I have already integrated two new practices and identified a third to work on down the road. One of the practices is based on McKeown’s assertion when deciding whether to take an opportunity, “If it isn’t a clear yes, then it’s a clear no.” True enough. But the simple evaluative tool he presents on page 111 turns his stock phrase into an actionable habit.

He unmasks such unprofitable beliefs as sunk-cost bias whereby people continue to invest in a project long after knowing it is a losing proposition simply because they have invested so much already. This and other insights into human nature will help you identify and change behaviors that impede your becoming an Intentionalist.

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I have two criticisms. The first, though perhaps minor, comes from a book design issue. Several pages are highlighted through reverse printing: white text on black pages. While this technique is effective for sectional title pages, the regular text printed this way bleeds to almost illegibility.

The second is more substantial. McKeown seems to be advocating the minimalist perspective, popular among a subset of Gen Xers and Millennials. While I find nothing inherently wrong with this philosophy (it is a refreshing counterpoint to the ubiquity of marketing in today’s society) I see Essentialism more broadly as a methodology for pursuing Intentionalism, be it minimalistically or expansively.

This reservation aside, I recommend Essentialism as a valuable tool in your pursuit of being an Intentionalist.

How do you determine which opportunities to embrace

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How to Be Decisive

Do you sometimes feel like the indecisive vultures from Walt Disney’s The Jungle Book?

Buzzie:  Hey Flaps, what are we gonna do?

Flaps:  I don't know, what you wanna do?

Military life involves lots of decision making.  And while it may seem that decisiveness increases with higher rank, decisions are more difficult when they affect more people.  So I spend a lot of time helping people at all levels when they struggle to decide something.

As an entrepreneur and sole owner of my company, I determined strategic direction with little input from others.  Then I delegated operational and tactical decisions to my staff.  If I were commanding a squadron or a ship the process would be similar.  But as a chaplain, achieving a consensus of other chaplains and senior enlisted people is crucial.  This process feels less decisive to me but in the long-term is more efficient for getting work done.

This all demonstrates that:

Decisiveness comes from understanding the importance of a decision before you begin deliberating.

These three questions can be quantified quickly and will aid you in determining the gravity of the decision you face:

  1. How important is the decision?  Most decisions are not life or death.  A decision’s place in the continuum from minor to major can be determined by asking:
    1. Who and/or how many people are affected by this decision?  As the closeness of your relationship and/or the number of people affected increases so do the repercussions.
    2. What is at stake?  When the cost to your relationships and financial, mental, and spiritual wellbeing, or that of your organization, gets bigger so does the gravity of your decision.  As the risk to life and property rises, there is a greater need to gather input from others.
  2. What is the context of the decision?  Lengthy deliberations and getting input on choices may be appropriate but:
    1. How crucial is the time factor?  Will you lose the opportunity if the decision is delayed?
    2. How will you implement it?  A military chain of command and a board of directors of a nonprofit are poles apart in making and executing decisions.  The latter generally requires significantly more buy-in from stakeholders.
  3. What are the consequences of a wrong decision?  While the results of your decision may seem permanent, rarely is that the case.  In reality, what is the cost to set things right?

Not only will answering these questions help you decide how much effort to put into a decision, it will also reveal other people with whom you should consult if necessary.  This information enables you to take the next step.

Decisive people self-impose a deadline for deciding.

Having assessed the situation, you can conclude whether:

  1. No decision is necessary.
  2. You must decide immediately, or
  3. The amount of time you should use in the event you rejected options 1 and 2.
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Like so many things, decisiveness comes with practice.  Take every opportunity.  If your family needs to decide where to go out for dinner and all are saying they don’t care, seize the opportunity and decide.  When you are not the ultimate decision maker, offer a reasoned recommendation to the person who will.

Apply this three-step process:

  1. Assess the importance.
  2. Set a deadline.
  3. Make the decision, if necessary.

It will become second nature.  You will also find that most of the decisions you have to make are not so consequential, thereby requiring far less time and anxiety.

Whether in your personal, family, work, or communal life, the time you spend deciding subtracts from the time you spend doing.  In the final analysis, the purpose of making a decision is so you can get on with your life. So . . .

What prevents you from being decisive?

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Did You Know There Are 2 Types of Free Choice?

Parsha Nugget Devarim – Deuteronomy 1:1-3:22

Earlier this summer, my daughter spent her first week away from home.  Talking with her on the phone I sensed her growing independence.  And so begins the challenge of how much control I should give her and when.  G-d dealt with the same question in parshas Devraim:

“You all approached me, and said: ‘Let us send men before us, that they may search out the land and bring us back word regarding the road by which we shall go up and the cities that we shall enter.’ The thing was favorable in my eyes; and I took twelve men from among you, one man per tribe . . .” (Deuteronomy/Devarim 1:22-23)

Did You Know There Are 2 Types of Free Choice?

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This week’s parsha begins the fifth and final book of the Torah.  Deuteronomy/Devarim is known as Mishneh Torah, which means either repetition or review of the Torah or explanation of the Torah.

The Children of Israel heard the previous four books of the Torah directly from G-d who spoke through Moses’s throat.  But Moses received Deuteronomy from G-d in the way that other Prophets received their messages. Then at a later date, he conveyed it to the Israelites.

At times Deuteronomy recounts certain events differently than the first time they appeared in the Torah.  For example, in the above verse, Moses indicates he made the decision to send the spies into the Land of Israel.  But in Numbers 13:1 it appears that G-d commanded Moses to send spies into the Land saying, “Send you men, that they may spy out the land of Canaan.  One man, one man per tribe shall you send, each a prince among them . . .”

So who decided, G-d or Moses?

The commentaries reconciled the seeming contradiction by explaining the initial idea came from the people who made the request to Moses. He, in turn, consulted with G-d.  According to Rashi, when G-d said, “Send you men . . .”  He was implying that Moses should do as he saw fit.  So the plan had human origins and Divine assent.

Why does the Torah use should a roundabout method to make its point?

In reality, this concept created a brand new paradigm.  Up until then, G-d directed virtually everything that Moses and the Children of Israel did.  They lived a cocoon-like existence while traveling through the wilderness led by the Tabernacle.  The case of the spies was the first time the people originated a significant proposal and was told essentially “do as you want.”

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With G-d as your director, you can proceed with confidence that you are doing the right thing.  But when you make your own decisions, determining the appropriateness of your actions is much more complex.  As well, the risk of failure or walking into a minefield is much greater.  But upon entering the Promised Land, G-d would no longer micromanage the Israelites’ lives.

The Two Levels of Free Choice

The first is when you receive specific instructions from G-d.  You have the option to obey or not, but since your soul is a part of the Divine, deep down you desire to follow G-d’s direction.  Because you are intimately connected to the Creator, you only want to do good, which is doing what G-d asks of you.  Sometimes your evil inclination gets the better of you, but most often you crave to follow your inclination to be virtuous.

Until the incident of the spies, this would have been your only choice.  Thereafter, a second level of choice existed.  Now, you can initiate action without G-d’s specific instructions.  True choice came about.

By allowing us to originate our own plans, G-d increased the stature of human activities.

People took a more active role in determining the direction of Creation, with all of the risks and benefits such power entails.

The Torah’s wisdom can be used to guide both types of free will actions.  By carefully studying the decisions of the Creator, hopefully, you will navigate your two levels of choice most effectively, for your family and the entire world.

What practices help you to pray most sincerely?

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Every year beginning on Simchas Torah, the cycle of reading the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, ends and begins again. Each Sabbath a portion known as a sedra or parsha is read. Its name comes from the first significant word or two with which this weekly reading begins.

Do you have a question about the Old Testament? Ask it here and I will answer it in a future Parsha Nugget!

5 Common Career Problems: Which Ones Do You Want to Overcome?

Every problem is a gift - without problems we would not grow – Tony Robbins

Life is filled with problems. In the early days of starting my first business, I learned to call them challenges since those sounded easier to overcome.  Among the worst are career problems.  Nearly all people are fortunate to have within their grasp the ability to choose the set of challenges with which they want to grapple.  Unfortunately, most don't exercise this choice.

5 Common Career Problems: Which Ones Do You Want Overcome?

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When I talk with people about career problems they tend to air the same complaints. Not necessarily in order of frequency, they are:

  1. I don't make enough money.
  2. I have to work too many hours.
  3. I miss too many family events.
  4. I dislike the people with whom I work.
  5. My boss doesn't know what he's doing.

Do any or all of these sound familiar?  Most were on my list back in 1985.  During that year I committed to finding a solution. On February 28, 1986, I started my first business. Being an entrepreneur eventually solved all of these challenges. Here is a rough timeline:

  1. Money:  It took less than two years to generate an income similar to the one I gave up and about five years to get my income to a comfortable level.
  2. Hours:  The first eight years I worked long hours, though rarely as many as at the company I left.  But after ten years this issue was under control.
  3. Family events:  From day one I controlled my schedule.  The flexibility of being self-employed is one of the top reasons for taking this step.
  4. Co-Workers:  Since I had the final say on hiring and firing, I never worked for very long with someone I didn't enjoy working with or who was incompetent.  This is another excellent reason for starting a company.
  5. Boss:  The truth of the matter is my boss, me, often didn't know what he was doing.  In the beginning, I was pigheaded about my ignorance.  But after a disappointing first year, I admitted to myself that I had a lot to learn and started filling in the gaps.  And while I constantly found my knowledge lacking it was within my power to get trained.
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Entrepreneurship won't solve your career challenges overnight.  But the ability to find and implement solutions will be in your hands.  While the business press tends to focus on the financial benefits of startups, I think the lifestyle benefits are much greater.  They will lead you to a more enjoyable life whether or not you have a multi-million or billion dollar IPO.

What is your biggest career challenge?

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How You Can Determine God’s Will

Parsha Nugget Balak – Numbers 22:2-25:9

I have a clear picture of what I want from life and a set timetable for when I want it.  If only G-d would cooperate.  A friend once told me:

“Man plans, G-d laughs”

 This week's parsha, Balak, reinforces this lesson:

You shall not go with them! You shall not curse the people because they are blessed. (Numbers/Bamidbar 22:12)

How You Can Determine God’s Will

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This week’s parsha details how Balak, the king of Moab, attempted to have Bilaam, one of the greatest prophets of all time, curse the Children of Israel.  Included is the wonderful story of the talking donkey, my wife’s favorite in all of the Bible.  The parsha ends with the somewhat frightening event in which Pinchas spears Prince Zimri and his Midianite lover in public at the entrance to the Tenant of Meeting.

The story of Balak and Bilaam is an archetype of how people think they can flout G-d’s will.  Balak, who saw the Children of Israel destroy Sihon and Og, was afraid that he would suffer the same fate.  He asked Bilaam to curse the Israelites so that he would be victorious in a war.

G-d does not want Bilaam to go.  But Bilaam is persistent and eventually, G-d relents telling him he can only say what He permits.  Bilaam persists in hoping either G-d will let him do what Balak wants or that he will be able to accomplish his objective despite G-d’s will.

Then Bilaam’s donkey disobeys his command to move despite being whipped.  He does not see that his loyal donkey is trying to protect him.  Miraculously she speaks to Bilaam and explains her disobedience.  Not until that moment does Bilaam see that an angel is waiting to kill him.  Despite G-d’s will being so obvious his simple donkey understands it, Bilaam’s craving for the riches Balak has promised him blinds him.

When someone acts against your wishes is your first thought to be angry with him for obstructing your progress?  Could it be that this person is G-d’s messenger who is letting you know you are acting contrary to G-d’s wishes and you need to consider an alternative course of action?

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When should you change and when should you stay the course? Here are some issues to ponder:

  1. How convinced are you that yours is the only solution?
  2. What impact will your decision have on important relationships?
  3. How much ground, if any, will you lose by changing course?

The challenge of discerning G-d’s messages in daily life can be immense.  By keeping in mind G-d’s desire that you emulate Him by taking good care of His children, you dramatically improve your ability to perceive His emissaries.

What clues do you look for in recognizing G-d’s will?

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Every year beginning on Simchas Torah, the cycle of reading the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, ends and begins again. Each Sabbath a portion known as a sedra or parsha is read. Its name comes from the first significant word or two with which this weekly reading begins.

Do you have a question about the Old Testament? Ask it here and I will answer it in a future Parsha Nugget!

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