7 steps to making the right decision

Helen Trevaskis, co-founder of 3C Collective, a social start-up that's designing and commercialising hygiene products for the Indian urban poor reminds herself of 7 ways to keep calm and take the decisions that will shape the future of her business

How do you make a decision that you don’t know how to make because you’ve never made one like it before? You feel you just don’t know enough but it’s important. Will you ever know enough? And the clock feels like it’s ticking, ticking, ticking. Should you wind everything down and go slowly? Slower maybe? But not too slow you don’t want to miss out.  

Helen but what if we get it wrong and other people say “Do this!” “Do that!” “Think about this!” “Think about that!” and it’s so helpful but then it’s late and it’s just you and a glass of wine maybe not the first, and you’ve found the way forward hallelujah!  

But in the morning the certainty has gone because you’re scared that one day you’ll regret doing it or not doing it and how can you know which it will be so you sit paralyzed and an opportunity fizzles away, pop, gone and you’ll wonder, what could have been?  

We have a decision to make at 3C, a big one, and if you haven’t already guessed, it’s bothering me. The phrase 'out of your comfort zone', which I pretty much loathe, is something right now I pretty much get. I get that 'comfort' is mental and physical all at the same time. Take my shoulders. During conversations we’re having that could fundamentally change things for us, I reach this point where my head drifts into spacey, useless, damp cotton woolliness while my shoulders turn to rock; a crude barometer of my indecision.  

My poor shoulders! I’ve been thinking, once this is over, I want to compensate them in some way for taking such a big share of my burden. But how… An equity stake? Cash? A position on the board? And what percentage how much, what control would they expect, what if things change and, and, and…  

Don’t get me wrong. There’s so much I love about this path I’m choosing. I love that trying to set up a social business is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I love having a business partner who is so wise, who comes from such a different background and yet I feel so in tune with. I love that when we get together we get excited all over again about why we are doing what we’re doing. And I love others’ enthusiasm for something that is now definitely more than a glimmer in our eyes.    

And we’re lucky. We’re having conversations that, if they go as we all hope, could dramatically accelerate our move toward being a ‘real’ business one day. Or they would if all the energy I’m putting into trying to decide went into getting on with what next.    It’s wearing me out!    

Ask the stupid questions, they’re never as stupid as avoiding understanding to protect your ego

But, we are nearly there. And predictably, everything is an opportunity to learn so I take solace from this painful process that I have advice for myself for the next time a beyond-my-comfort-zone decision scoots into view, which I expect to be quite soon.    

So next time, Helen, don’t forget what you’ve learned…  

1. Ask the stupid questions, they’re never as stupid as avoiding understanding to protect your ego.    

2. Seek smart counsel but remember there’s a tipping point where additional information becomes less not more helpful.    

3. Draw on what you do know lots about to help you make decisions about what you don’t (yet) know much about. ‘Think of it like working out which house to buy’, a friend advised me ‘You already know how to do that!’  

4. Know when you’re ready, it’s when you stop veering between wanting to jam your foot on the break one minute and on the accelerator the next.     

5. Be prepared to take a risk for the bigger win (even if that sounds a bit clichéd).  

6. Know that there are no perfect decisions.    

7. And breathe.

Photo by Adam Jones