June 13, 2016
You’ve felt it; you might have even said it. People around you – with whom you’re connected, in business and in life – are increasingly flakey. You leave them messages, and they don’t reply. You finally get through – with a solid offer to benefit them in some meaningful way – and they agree to take you up on the opportunity.
Whatever the “follow-up” step is, they don’t take it. They gave you a clear affirmation of their decision to say, “yes,” but their actions never echo that conclusion: all of their non-verbals are screaming, “no.”
Two things are going on around us today: 1) well educated, well situated people who are reasonably accomplished, who cannot make a decision; and, 2) people with integrity that is marked at the mean-average of their category of society, for whom an RSVP means less than nothing: their earlier decision – if one was made – can be abandoned, upon further review or the emergence of another option, later.
Jim Sollische – writing in the Wall Street Journal – calls it “decision fatigue.” They say the average American is making 35,000 decisions every day. Should they get out of bed when the alarm sounds, or wait 15 minutes? Casual Tuesday, or dress-for-success? Make a Keurig cup at home, or stop for a custom brew on the way in? Latte or mocha? Almond milk or non-fat? Venti or grande? Answer the incoming call from your business contact who’s waiting for you at the office, or let it go to message?
The marketing study has been repeated across multiple decades; it was last done in Menlo Park, the epicenter of Silicon Valley. A special display of jam was established, with a $1 coupon applicable only to the jams on the table. The set-up changes: one model offers six selections, the other presents 24. Both record over 100 people stopping to consider the options. The action is secretly video taped.
The results: with six to choose from, 31% make a purchase. With 24 choices, 4% buy. The conclusion, whenever business schools repeat the exercise: more choices; less decisions.
Some blame search engines. Stop at that grocery display and pull out your smart phone; Google the question, “What’s the best jam?” In .43 seconds, you’ll have 39.4 million results to scan; by then, most will swear-off Smuckers and keep on walking. You can ask Google, “How can I know God?” and 274 million results come up. Is it any wonder that people are reporting disengagement from religious practice? They’ve been hammered by decision fatigue.
Programmers understand the necessity for binary decision making: narrow the option field to two, choose the best, and stick with it. The decision chain is critical, and often requires wisdom to reduce the selections and, then, trust one’s intuition to go forward.
It was 2800 years ago when Ahab and Jezebel – king and queen of Israel – determined to eradicate Jehovah God from their society and replace him with the pagan gods Baal and Asherah. God called Elijah – his prophet to the profligate nation – to confront king and country with their option: “Elijah went before the people and said, ‘How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.’ But the people said nothing.” (1 Kings 18:21)
Our society seems to be losing the capacity to make a solid decision – from seemingly unlimited options – and, then, to stick with that decision.
Maybe it’s time to shut off the screens, narrow our choices… and commit to something, believing it to be right. The world – today, and tomorrow – does not recognize or celebrate the indecisive…