mad anthony

Rants, politics, and thoughts on politics, technology, life,
and stuff from a generally politically conservative Baltimoron.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Should I write this post? I can't decide...

I sometimes have trouble making decisions. I've been accused by friends and coworkers of overanalyzing decisions, of reading too much into things, of not being able to choose a course of action.

What's odd is it only seems to affect certain things. I am a notorious eBayer, and often buy stuff at yard sales and auctions, where I have to make a quick decision about buying or bidding on stuff - and I generally do pretty well. But I think my decisionmaking is made easier by two factors - low failure cost and experience. I generally am dealing with things I'm pretty familiar with, so I have a pretty good idea what items are worth. And I tend to subscribe to the theory that I often have little to lose and much to gain when I buy something - if I buy something for $10, there's a possibility it might be worth $100. At worst, it could be worthless and I'm out $10 - but chances are it's something I can at least sell for what I paid for it, either on eBay or at a yard sale. So there is a possibly for a significant upside, and little downside.

My job also includes a certain amount of decision-making. Tech support means being able to take information - such as a description of a problem - and figure out how best to solve. I haven't been fired yet, so I must at least be OK at it. But once again, I'm made more confident by the fact that I've done it long enough to have some confidence in the results, and by low costs for failure - if it doesn't work, I (usually) can try something else.

On the other hand, when it comes things I don't have lot of experience to fall back, I tend not to be confident in my decisions. This leads me to put off making decisions, to try to gather additional information, and to be unsure what course of action to take. Because there isn't always information to gather, it also means taking insignificant things and making them significant, of putting too much weight on an innocent comment.

There are two areas I can see this happening frequently in my life - socially (both in terms of friendships and my failed attempts at entering the world of dating) and career.

For example, a few months ago there was an opening in another department at the school where I worked. I thought of applying. I read the requirements, and realized there was a lot lacking. I debated about applying. I finally decided to, only to have second thoughts when I realized it required references. I worried about using my coworkers, figuring that they might give a bad review because they didn't want to lose me, or that a good review by them would be interpreted as them wanting to get rid of me. Everyone I told this to told me I was crazy. I don't think I was completely off base, but my thought process was driven mostly by a previous boss I had who tried to block me from taking a promotion - I guess I assumed that that was the way everyone operated, rather than an anomaly. Ultimately, I ended up not applying for the job - I put it off until it was no longer open for applications.

The funny thing is, it actually turned out that doing nothing was the best move. The person who previously had the job ended up not liking his new career and re-applying for it. Since it's unlikely that I could have beat out a candidate with 8 years of experience doing the job and a PMP certification, applying would have been a waste of time.

But chances are that doing nothing is rarely a good strategy - even if doing nothing is the best move, it should be an active decision and not just happen by lack of commitment to a course of action.

So what's the solution? I'm not sure, and not just because I can't decide on one. I tend to think that, in a lot of cases, my tendency to put thought into decisions can be a positive. Thinking out decisions before acting often produces better results. But overthinking decisions makes it harder to make good decisions, because it tends to take minor considerations or improbable outcomes and assign them too much weight, making the final decision worthless. And some decisions probably don't need to be thought too much - namely, the kind with minimal consequences.


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