Justin Cannon

Pressure Making the Hard Calls

At different times in our lives we have really hard calls to make.

Lets feel some pressure....

The combination that is hardest to confront is when something you are deciding on has important consequences to you or the people close to you and even after a good night’s sleep the obvious choice just doesn’t become clear. 

We all know how it feels when something of significance comes at you, usually out of the blue. 

1. Your mind starts to race and for most of us gravitating to all of the bad things that will happen if you don’t decide right, if not controlled it can turn into catastrophizing.

2. You start rapidly firing off possible courses of action in your mind, it’s like the quicker you can find a solution, decide and move on, the stress and uncertainty that this situation has caused will stop.

3. The initial rush slows down, you might go for a walk, talk to someone, anything to gain some perspective and get another opinion.

4. This process alone makes you realize 98% of the rapid fire thought bubbles you had were well……terrible. (I’m thinking Sean Spicer skipped this step on a few occasions in his stint as the Whitehouse Press Secretary)

• Usually after the stop and think part of the process, most of the decisions that confront you in your life will become clear, one decision will stand out as the obvious, best course of action, it might not be perfect but on balance it is clearly the best course of action.


There are those pesky few circumstances that just don’t get any clearer, even after a couple of walks, talks & sleeps you are left no clearer, you seem to be hemmed in by shitty possible outcomes from all angles.

This is what qualifies as a HARD CALL. 

One of the most common techniques people use to make decisions is the Pro’s & Con's list, we can all hear our friends advice now, why don’t you make a Pro’s & Con’s list. This technique was made famous by Benjamin Franklin:

“My way is to divide half a sheet of paper by a line into two columns; writing over the one Pro and over the other Con. Then during three or four days’ consideration, I put down under the different heads short hints of the different motives, that at different time occur to me, for or against the measure. When I have thus got them altogether in one view, I endeavor to estimate their respective weights; and where I find two, one on each side, that seem equal, I strike them both out. If I judge some two reasons con equal to some three reasons pro, I strike out five; and thus proceeding, I find where the balance lies; and if after a day or two of further consideration, nothing new that is of importance occurs on either side, I come to a determination accordingly.” –Benjamin Franklin

Pro’s & Con’s List’s Just Don’t Cut It for the Hard Calls

The problem is, it is terribly inadequate for anything other than the most simple of decisions,  an example in a non-business setting, that people can relate to, is the choice of leaving or staying in a relationship where you still care deeply for your partner but for other reasons feel you need to move on. 

If you make a list for something as difficult as that, if one side of the list, Pro or Con is longer, it often gives you no real clue to how you feel or even what is the right decision to make and the reason is simple…….

It’s because in important matters it’s not the number of things in a list, it’s the weight of importance they have to the outcome but even that’s not enough you need a much more powerful framework. 

Isolating the Non Negotiables

When you are making important decisions the very best thing you can do is try an isolate the thing you must have or you must avoid in the outcome, the non-negotiable/s , the things that no matter what, you must attempt to have them addressed.

Immediately the list gets much smaller, which is a great start and more importantly it creates a robust and intelligent filter from which to put your thinking or list through.

Even very blurry situations get a lot clearer when you do this, it doesn’t mean the pain of making the decision goes away, Hard Calls always leave you with that task, but they focus you in on what needs to happen and quickly.

Just What the Doctor Ordered

This is the Number #1 Rule in a great book called, What do I do now? : Dr. Foster's 30 laws of great decision making / Charles Foster.

#1 Focus On the Most Important Thing. "People who make great decisions must remember to step back from the noisy urgency of the moment and ask themselves, 'What's the most important thing?'" and prioritize for that most important thing, according to Foster is:

more likely long-term than short-term;

more to do with what you want than what other people want;

more likely be connected to your hopes than your fears.

A selection of some of the other 30: Extract from this summary article

Law #2. Don't Decide Until You're Ready. Don't act on impulse to make important decisions. "Readiness is the key, not speed," writes Foster. "When you're not ready, you haven't given yourself time to see what you need in order to feel comfortable going forward with the decision. People who make great decisions never decide until they feel completely ready."

Law #10. Do What You Really Want. To find out what you truly want, remember, "you don't just make a decision. You live a decision. ... Asking yourself, 'What would I want if I were completely on my own?' is a very effective way to get in touch with your true desires."

Law #24. Find and Follow an Expert. "People who make great decisions work hard and make actual sacrifices to discover true experts in whatever area they're needing to make a decision."

Law #30. Make Decisions to Make Things Wonderful.Great decision makers say, "I'll never stop basing my decisions on my dreams. I'll never let disappointment blind me to how far my dreams have taken me."

Another great book on the subject is, The Inner Work of Leaders by Barbara Mackoff and Gary Wenet Amacom. It has a great list of what constitutes great decision making:

Reflection: the ability to examine experience and learn from it;

Framework: the ability to create an optimistic narrative -- a positive focus -- for the challenges you face;

Attunement: the ability to listen to and learn from those you lead;

Conviction: the strength to rely on your own inner authority;

Replenishment: finding other activities -- from long vacations to short breaks -- to restore perspective.

The Real World

It is very hard to create a one size fits all framework for what to do, to make a good decision with a Hard Call decision, because they are so subjective and have so much relational context but you can get close.

Best business video I have every watched

I will set it up for you, Steve Jobs had been pressured out as CEO of Apple in the famous well documented battle with John Sculley and ultimately the board of Apple he then went out on his own to start NEXT, a computer focused on serving the higher education market, in effect starting again as a startup.

This video takes you into the inner sanctum of internal NEXT workshops that Jobs is running with his team and in it they are grappling with lots of complex Hard Calls and you see him constantly trying to mine for the “Most Important Thing” as well as the other skill that I have written about before in Leadin Ain’t Easy which is the ability to re-frame things and at a highly rapid cycle. So much new information is coming at you across multiple dimensions that it requires re-framing to help you extract the information you need to make the next best decision and to give you the new narrative you need to engage and motivate your co-founders, employees & investors towards the new goal without them feeling you or they are lost.

It is truly amazing to be able to see inside Steve Jobs birthing a company at the coalface, it is a real fly on the wall viewing experience.

When you are watching this and you see how raw and undone they are, doing what are very common whiteboard sessions, you are seeing the birth of a company that was sold for $640 Million (in today’s dollars) and 1.5 million shares of Apple stock, 12 years after the footage you will see. The 6.09 min to 18.19 min mark.

How the Next Story Ended

NeXT introduced the first NeXT Computer in 1988, and the smaller NeXTstation in 1990. The NeXT computers experienced relatively limited sales, with estimates of about 50,000 units shipped in total. Nevertheless, their innovative object-oriented NeXTSTEP operating system and development environment were highly influential.

Apple purchased NeXT in 1997 for $429 million (equivalent to $640 million in 2016), and 1.5 million shares of Apple stock. As part of the agreement, Steve Jobs, Chairman and CEO of NeXT Software, returned to Apple, the company he co-founded in 1976. The founder promised to merge software from NeXT with Apple's hardware platforms, eventually resulting in macOS, iOS, watchOS and tvOS. Parts of these operating systems incorporated the OPENSTEP foundation.

How do you know if your making the right call?

It’s a simple test but very effective, isolate the two possible choices you have left, I either do X or Y in this situation and A or B will be the likely outcome.

The trick is to focus on the outcome side of the decision and put it to a coin toss, yes a coin toss.

Prior to the tossing of the coin visualize A really playing out, try and focus on how you will really feel then do the same for B, let your imagination go there properly.

Then put A on Tails & B on Heads or the other way, it doesn’t matter, then toss away.

What is it, Head’s or Tail’s?

Now, right now, this split second, what do you feel? 

Do you have a feeling of relief or do you shrug those shoulders ever so slightly? Watch carefully, because your truth will be in that split second response.

Whatever outcome made you feel the most relief is a very good clue that your truth lies there.

I hope you find the process helpful next time you or a friend of yours has a Hard Call to make.

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