Decision-making: How to Take the Long View

Connie Schultz, a columnist for USA Today and author, posted this tweet. “For many reasons, I hope to live a long and healthy life. Today it’s so I can read the essays and hear the songs written by grown children who lived through this pandemic. They will have their views of us.”

Inherent in that tweet is a question: how will tomorrow’s consequences judge today’s actions? Answering the question now is choleric. We are bound up in the passions of the moment as well as the heartbreak of the suffering around us.

Gaining distance

While we live in the present, it is essential to take the long view, especially for significant decisions.  Decision-making requires the discipline of distancing. 

Consider hinge moments of history. The closer in time we are to an event, the more significant the visceral impact. For example, if I tell you the Visigoths sacked Rome in 410, you can imagine an ancient city burning. If I tell you the Twin Towers were attacked on 9/11/2001, you know exactly where you were the moments you saw the Towers collapse. 

And by extension, those who were children on that day do not feel the horror of that moment. Still, all have been impacted by what followed. [By tragic coincidence, the servicemen and women killed in Kabul during the pullout of U.S. forces were infants or toddlers on 9/11, the event that triggered the invasion of Afghanistan.]

Looking to history is a way to gain perspective, but when thinking ahead, you can adopt the mindset of a historian to think about the consequences of an action. Historians benefit from hindsight, yes, but their methodology of who, what, why, and how is helpful in scenario planning. 

Rearview decision-making

Frame your next major decision as a thought problem, the kind that enables us to do a bit of scenario planning. Regard it as a tool to examine our choices for now and the consequences of those decisions in years to come. Here are factors to consider.

  • Impetus: why are we making this decision now?
  • People: who will we engage to help us?
  • Resources: what assets can we apply?
  • Adaptability: how can we remain flexible as well as agile? 
  • Evaluation: what are our criteria for success?

Emotional quotient

Returning to Connie Schultz’s tweet, she wrote that she wanted to “read the essays and hear the songs written by grown children.” Essays appeal to our intellect. Songs convey emotion. Music is a means of expressing something beyond words: feelings and insights too precious, or perhaps too elusive, for words alone. 

And so, when considering big decisions, we want to make rational choices, but let’s not forget the humanity of the moment. What will be the impact of the decisions on us not simply as cognitive beings but truly human beings?

Decisions made are decisions done.

Consequence is what becomes of them.

Regard decisions as written in stone,

Or as mere stepping stones?

Undo them? Or persist in them?

What we do matters as much as how we do it.

With logic, reason, and, let’s hope, some heart.

First posted on Forbes.com 9.17.2021