According to the Cambridge Dictionary, the definition of guessing is to answer a particular question when you do not have all the facts and so cannot be certain if you are correct.
Being right every time and having absolute future certainty is impossible. Improving your odds is not. Guessing may be necessary for unique scenarios where you have little to go on and no direct precedent. Or when the outcome really doesn’t matter that much. But for many situations, we can and must do better.
There is a strong element of human nature at work when it comes to guessing. It’s quick and easy to guess. We can pick a direction now and worry about what happens later. Seeking knowledge to support a decision, however, requires time and effort. And it seems we’re often too busy or impatient to slow down, or lazy to do the work.
“Most of the world will make decisions by either guessing or using their gut. They will be either lucky or wrong.” – Suhail Doshi, chief executive officer, Mixpanel.
There are four simple things we can do to minimize guessing in situations that matter:
Identify what’s missing. Before making any consequential decision, ask yourself and your team to identify any information that, if available, would contribute to a more confident decision. And look internally first as there’s likely information you already have that you’re not using. Naming the critical information you lack will make clear the fact that you’re guessing. The team can then decide whether the tradeoff of time and money for clarity is warranted.
Let go of your ego. Many (or most) of us won’t admit it, but we don’t know as much as we think we do. Assuming you know your customers well enough, relying on dated information or personal perceptions, and leaning on years of industry experience are common mistakes. Adopt a “beginner’s mind” attitude and assume you know nothing. Experience is valuable, but by definition, is based on the past. Strive to be open-minded and always learning.
Decide to do the work. Commit the time and resources to uncover the information and insights you require to move your business forward decisively. Do the work yourself, engage your team, or hire a trusted professional. Start small if you have to - but start. The benefits go far beyond informed decision-making; your entire organization will be more focused, energized, and productive.
Be disciplined. Companies often commission research projects on an “emergency” basis when information is needed to immediately address a problem. Sometimes this is unavoidable. But consider implementing a consistent, disciplined method to capture and apply intelligence across your organization. The impact can be enormous. Leaning on the words of coach Vince Lombardi, intelligence gathering is not a “sometime thing; it’s an all the time thing.”
Business owners and leaders’ primary responsibilities include seeking out the intelligence needed to inform decisions that impact customers, teams, companies, and communities. We believe this is a hallmark of an effective business leader. And while we idolize swashbuckling entrepreneurs that take huge risks and succeed, seemingly without hesitation, in reality, most successful leaders quietly and consistently do the vital groundwork to move their organizations forward.
Future certainty will never be absolute, as change is guaranteed. But we can decide and take actions to make ourselves and our organization informed and resilient and, therefore, better equipped to adapt, innovate, and grow. And we’ll know we’re getting there if we find ourselves guessing less.