People work hard to try to have “all of the facts” when making a decision, which is a wise thing to do. At some point, though, you need to realize that you can’t literally have all of the facts and you just need to make the best decision that you can.
I love this quote from Litton Industries founder Tex Thornton, from the book “Becoming Trader Joe“:
If all the facts could be known, idiots could make the decisions.
If you could have absolutely every fact in your hand, decisions would be easy. The opposite is what makes truly great leaders — being able to predict the future where facts simply can’t exist to support their view.
Steve Jobs was a master at this. When he released the iMac in 1998, he chose not to include a floppy disk drive in it. We can see now that it was a good decision, but people at the time weren’t so sure.
- “That one glaring design mistake in the iMac is that Apple decided to build it without a floppy-disk drive” – Walt Mossberg in the Wall Street Journal
- “My guess is that Apple is wrong about home users–most will still want a floppy (or zip drive) and will have to buy an add-on.” – Charles Piller from the Los Angeles Times
- “If Steve Jobs is so damn smart, why did he approve the next great Apple disaster, the iMac? I can’t believe that Apple would return to the consumer market by offering a Mac that is completely incompatible with the current installed base of Macs and software. No floppy drive?” – Eric Wenocur (and others) in Macworld magazine
Jobs did it other times as well, being among the first to remove the CD-ROM drive from laptops, Flash from our browsers, and the headphone jack from our phones.
Those decisions all seem rather wise from our viewpoint, but they were bold moves at the time, largely because there weren’t facts to acquire to help make the decision. He could see trends moving, but those weren’t obvious decisions to most of us.
Add in the idea that good decisions can sometimes lead to bad outcomes, but they were still good decisions. That’s a concept that I struggle to see in some situations, but great decisions and great outcomes don’t always go hand-in-hand, and a lack of available facts is often a major contributor.
I’ll still work to gather as many facts as I can when making a decision, but I’ll also try to be bold enough to make decisions even when I can’t find enough facts to make it an easy call.