May 31, 2023

Moving Forward with Inaction: A Counterintuitive Approach to Decision-Making



We are conditioned to believe that inaction is the worst thing to do when making a critical decision. We are told to collect the data, even if it is minimally available, and make a decision. If it turns out to be a wrong decision, we can pivot or change course. But doing nothing is a detriment.

That works for many things, but not all. In leadership, inaction is often considered indecisive and weak. Avoiding the problem does not make it go away. On the other end of the spectrum, overanalyzing the situation can prolong the process and result in paralysis, the same as inaction.

A certain amount of risk accompanies the significant decisions required of a leader. Choosing the best person for the position or promotion is often a choice between many competent individuals. If you are choosing from a pool of candidates from within your organization, you have the benefit of assessing past performance as beneficial criteria. You don’t have that luxury when hiring from the outside and can only decide based on comparing resumes, references, and performance during an interview. The latter can often be misleading if one candidate is more charismatic. This is why an interview is not the best representation of work ethic or competency. Either way, it’s not an option to avoid the decision altogether. You must fill the position so you do so with the data you have collected and hope they perform to your standards.

At the police department, we were tasked with choosing from different vendors when implementing a new system. The risk of getting it wrong caused great stress because it often involves hundreds of thousands of dollars (or more) and altering an entire infrastructure around the new system. Every organization goes through similar exercises. From choosing a web designer, point of sale, or multi-million dollar systems, we listen to the sales pitch and determine which vendor can deliver their promise and product. In the end, we must make a decision.

Failing to make a decision can cause stagnation in an organization. But what about our personal lives? What happens when we deliberately choose inaction? I’m not talking about action in the physical sense. We all know that surfing the sofa for too long leads to poor physical condition. I’m talking about the kind of inaction that results from deliberately choosing to do nothing when faced with a life-altering decision.

I’m currently grappling with making a decision that involves financial risk and altering my life’s ecosystem. Fortunately, I have a knack for putting things in perspective. Being a cop for 27 years taught me that most things are not as problematic as we make them to be. After seeing hundreds of car accidents, bullet holes, and other heinous scenes, I don’t get too worked up about things that don’t draw blood.

We tend to believe that inaction is not an option when sometimes, it is the best option. Some moments require deep contemplation about the best course of action in your life’s journey. Making a rash decision between several viable possibilities can result in a regrettable outcome.

I’m not a person whom you’d consider risk-averse. My whole life comprises moments where I’ve jumped without a net. My default is action; I live by the creed that fear is a liar.

But in this instance, I keep losing sleep over the decision that needs to be made, and I’ve put immense pressure on myself to act. I now realize another alternative is to deliberately hit the pause button until I’m certain how to proceed. Sitting in stillness and silence and allowing the answer to come to you isn’t always passive. Occasionally the best thing to do is take a step backward and remove yourself from the noise and the advice of others to gain clarity.

As counterintuitive as it seems, sometimes the best way to move forward is to sit still.

Trust yourself. You know what is best.

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