Why Last Second Decisions Should Not Be Last Second Decisions

By Scott Costa, Publisher, tED magazine

I had a column/blog all set up and ready to go for today. And then the Super Bowl happened.

I don’t think I have to remind you about what happened in the final seconds, and I won’t turn this into a “was that the right decision” column. We’ve heard enough of that over the past four days. And we will hear enough of that for as long as they play the Super Bowl.

Instead of writing about the decision, I’ll write about what went into the decision. The clock is ticking. 59 seconds left in the game. Seattle needs one yard. Who should be on the field? Seattle only has one time-out remaining. Now there are 45 seconds. Is Belichik going to call time-out? Is this the right play to call? 30 seconds left. If this doesn’t work, what next? The Seahawks haven’t run a play yet. Is this going to work? What is the next decision by Seattle if this fails? Number 89 is not in the right position and needs to move quickly. 25 seconds. When should Seattle call its last time-out? This is only for the biggest prize the game has to offer. Seattle sure hopes this will work, but there is obviously a lot of uncertainty going on at this moment.


Now think about this: do you want to be making decisions like this when it comes to running your business or department? Here’s what I say. Take care of the first 59 minutes of the game and you won’t have to worry about the last one. If Seattle had been leading by two touchdowns, or figured out a way to stop Tom Brady from completing so many passes, that last minute would be meaningless. In business, take care of what needs to be done now, so the next time a crisis arrives, you are ready.

Just this week, snow and ice traveled from the Upper Midwest to the Northeast, causing huge problems for a large section of the country. Did you make decisions on how to handle it days, weeks, even years ago? Or did you wait until your power was out and you couldn’t drive to work to start making decisions on what you should be doing.

Difficult decisions need to be made every day, unless you are ready for them in advance. Then you can take the word “difficult” out of the equation and just call them “decisions” and “execution”.

I learned a great lesson about making decisions in a crisis situation from Dirk Beveridge’s book, “Innovate!”. In the book, Beveridge wrote about when Stephan Elop took over at Nokia. Elop needed to transform the company, and it needed to be done with smart decision-making. So Elop wrote a memo to employees explaining the dangers of the “burning platform.”

“A man was working on an oil platform in the North Sea,” Elop wrote. “He woke up one night from a loud explosion, which suddenly set the entire platform on fire. In mere moments, he was surrounded by flames. Through the smoke and heat, he made his way out of the chaos to the platform’s edge. When he looked down, all he could see was the dark, cold, foreboding Atlantic waters.”

“As the fire approached, the man had mere seconds to react. He could stand on the platform and inevitably be consumed by the flames. Or, he could plunge 30 meters in to the freezing waters. The man was standing on a “burning platform” and he needed to make a choice.”

The memo goes on to say that under normal circumstances, the man would never consider jumping in to the icy water. But this was not a normal circumstance, and because there was no plan to escape a burning platform, the man had to make a decision that was not in his best interest. It was the lesser of two horrible options.

We don’t really know what is going to happen within the business world for the rest of 2015. There are so many outside factors that come in to play that any one of them could result in a huge shift in strategy. But, while times are somewhat calm right now, it might be a good idea to start thinking about what you will do to maintain your advantages.

This is your 59 minutes. Manage them so you don’t have to make a series of difficult choices when seconds count, like if you should pass the ball from the one yard line or jump into a freezing North Sea.

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