The Perfect Decision Fallacy

This was originally published in my free weekly newsletter, How It Actually Works.

You’re ambitious and want to achieve Great Things.

So you work backwards and figure out all the stuff you have to do to get there. You analyze all possible paths and finally pick a direction. It kinda looks like this:

What a depressing and bad model of the world.

It puts too much weight on your current decision:

  1. You can’t possibly have “all information” available
  2. The world is constantly changing, and your abilities and relationships along with it
  3. It’s kind of boring…? Like “having a computer solving a Sudoku puzzle, it’s kind of missing the point.”

If I choose the wrong thing today I won’t achieve my dreams.


But flip it upside down and you have an adaptable strategy: take 90 days to pick a direction, go as fast as you can, then reassess:

There are multiple paths to get to your end goal, you just don’t know what they are in advance

John Mackey didn’t know he’d build the Whole Foods empire when he opened his first store.

Lincoln didn’t know he’d help end slavery when he decided to become a lawyer.

No Precious Decisions

The trick to overcoming ALL of this is decreasing the cost of any single wrong decision.

Candice Neistat has this great line:

Don’t treat everything like it’s a precious decision.

Instead of making a few BIG decisions, make lots of LITTLE ones.

Instead of “would I marry this girl?” ask “would I have fun on a single date?”

Instead of “should I launch a new product?” ask “In 2 weeks how much can I find out about my customers’ hopes, fears, and dreams?”

Instead of “how do I know if a YouTube channel will grow my business?” ask “how fast can we make a single video?”

(And just thank God you’re not someone like Tim Cook. How the hell does he know if what he’s working on today is going to help Apple? He has to wait 2-3 years to get any customer feedback…)

Tunnel Vision into the Unknown

So the genius of people like Sam Walton or Reed Hastings isn’t some eureka moment of discovery, it’s the mental toughness and determination to take small steps forward, not knowing where they’d ultimately end up.

A friend of mine went from teaching high school 3 years ago to working for Apple in Cupertino today.

Someone asked him what his next long-term goals and plans were. Good question for someone who’d advanced so fast, right?

You know where this is going: his answer was

“3 years ago I had no idea I’d be where I’m at today, why would I try to predict where I’ll be in another 3 years?”

He’s tunnel-vision down on being awesome at what’s in front of him, even while he’s uncertain of the future.

- Trevor

PS: For more on this and short-term decisions check out the book Obliquity

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