The Cost of Next Time

Next time is more than a delay; it might even be a lifetime. Next time is a strategic decision to focus on something else. Next time is passing the last exit on the interstate before the toll booth. There is a high cost to delaying what could be done now. Next time is more than another day; it is a cascade of actions that requires planning and re-routing before returning to the opportunity. 

How might we consider what cannot wait for next time? What are the screening statements that allow us to evaluate opportunities in real-time? How might we have the courage to take the path we need to explore today? In his poem, The Road not Taken, Robert Frost presents, “Yet knowing how ways lead on to ways, I doubted if I should ever come back.”

Next time is a worthy rationalization for amusement ride choices, but postponing until next time can be a paradigm shift for the decisions that matters.

Problem Solved vs Problem Created

Damming the Columbia River solved a number of problems. It reduced seasonal flooding, allowed agriculture to prosper, generated hydroelectric power, and was a catalyst for local communities to prosper. It also created problems. The dams altered the ecosystem and hydrology of a major watershed, it introduced crops that might not have propsered, obstructed salmon and sturgeon from returning to their breeding grounds without human intervention, and generated inexpensive electricity which delayed investments in other forms of sustainable energy.

Some would classify the Columbia River Dams as one of the great engineering and economic successes of the Twentieth Century in the United States. Others might define the complex as one of the most significant environmental disasters created by humankind. Politicians, citizens, environmental groups, and government agencies are still debating the merits and fate of the dams.

I might be helpful to frame our problem-solving with the mindset that we are both solving and creating in the same act. We should not stop aspiring to be a force for good but we might benefit from recognizing our solution will be somebody else’s obstacle.

Taxi to Takeoff

Do not forget that even when the boarding door closes, we still must taxi before we takeoff. It is convenient to think our flight encompasses only the flying portion. Taxing to the runway allows us to prepare, reveals new insights, and is part of the journey.

How might we realize that a decision does not equate to immediate action? There is a series of events that require sequencing before we are en route.

Watts for Free

In the road cycling community, innovation creates new levels of efficiency. A fundamental measurement for cyclist is the number of watts (power) it takes to reach a specific speed. The ultimate goal is to use the least amount of watts to reach the highest speed, since more power requires more energy. If a rider cycles at an average power of 200 watts over 162 kilometers (100 mile century), then any strategy to reduce their power and maintain the same speed or achieve a higher speed while maintaining the same power gets discussed. Riding in a group and benefiting from the inherent draft is a highly practiced strategy. Done correctly, one can achieve a 30% reduction in power output on the right terrain. First lesson, when the conditions are correct and we work together we are faster as a group than as an individual.

Over a decade ago, the idea of ‘marginal gains’ was added to the cycling lexicon. Teams started seeking minor changes and additions that resulted in micro impacts on an athlete’s performance. When bundled together, a measurable net positive was evident. Strategies included, taking personal mattresses to multi-week races like the Tour de France so an athlete slept on their bed each night. Mobile kitchens and chefs were hired to prepare the athlete’s breakfast and dinner, allowing for individual dietary restrictions and meals that met the extraordinary caloric needs of a tour cyclist. Food is ready when the cyclists required, not when the hotel’s restaurant has time.

Some marginal gains strategies were beyond the capabilities of citizen cyclist to put into practice but others were easier to adopt. Cycling kits went from loose fitting two piece lycra jersey and shorts to one piece tailored sprint suits that were far more aerodynamic. Cycling helmet design evolved from a priority for ventilation to speed. Socks, shoe covers, width of handle bars, and even the bearings in the rear derailleur pulleys redesigned. These equipment updates were not required but some were almost free.

The question becomes, if we know something is faster, do we adopt it into our practice? As a professional cyclist, not evolving to capture ‘free watts’ is detrimental to long-term career opportunities. For the amateur, the selection of ‘free watts’ is personal preference.

What are known practices that would make our enterprises more effective but we choose not to adopt? Are these changes aligned with our values or do we value traditions over change? Are we comfortable with our results or are we seeking greater impact? Where does our Magnetic North (purpose, vision, mission, values) point when we consider new opportunities?

Out-Back Versus Loop

Is there a difference in our mindsets when we commence a journey that is an out-back route versus a loop? Do we prepare or even pace ourselves differently? When we know we are going to retrace our steps, we benefit in both the experience of the moment and the knowledge of the terrain we will face on return. When we take-on a loop, each turn in the trail reveals new information and a fresh challenge. A loop may benefit our sense of adventure and exploration.

What if we consider out-back options when we want to test new techniques or equipment? It provides us greater flexibility if our travels do not go as planned. What if we commit to the loops when we are strategically aligned?

How might our desire to innovate thrive based on our route choice?

Borrowed Trouble

We do not need more trouble. Walking into a trap after ignoring warning signs is a problem of our creation. Learning from others’ mistakes is a far more valuable use of our time. The value of an affinity group is to share successes and failures. To be a voyeur, not the voyager who paddles over the known waterfall after numerous parties navigated the same waterway. If we come to collect you because you got caught in the bear trap, it is a waste of everyone’s resources. If you got caught in a sticky situation because you were the first person down the trail, then we are ready to assist. If we share what we learned, the benefit is not only better decision-making, but it allows all of us to focus on the work that matters.



How many lug nuts on a car wheel are you willing to travel without?  How many gears on a road bike are you willing to ride without?  How many times are your willing to let your shoelaces break before replacing them?

The best answer; it depends on the journey and circumstance.  In a perfect world, we would purchase, fix, or replace any of these items immediately.  However, we tend to drive, ride and walk a little way before addressing the problem.  In extenuating circumstances, we travel great distances and endure long periods of time if our survival outranks the pending maintenance issue.

There are no perfect top ten lists or flow charts.  If these things existed we could replace most committees, task forces, board, and leadership teams with algorithms.  Instead, we need the human element to wrestle with the questions that matter.  Great decision-makers are capable of altering the course of a cause more than the accumulation of resources.

Never forget to think about the human element.  Otherwise, we are collecting badges and experience points as we try to advance from level to level without an understanding of how it impacts the overall mission.

Better Decisions

Insightful and applicable blog post by Eric Barker. Here is the summary if you need encouragement to read further:

Here’s how to make good decisions:

  • You don’t need more info, you need the right info: Clarify the problem and get relevant data, not all the data.
  • Feelings are not the enemy: For simple choices, use raw brainpower. For complex choices, trust intuition.
  • If you’re an expert in the area, trust your gut: Not sure if you’re an expert? Keep a decision diary.
  • “Good enough is almost always good enough”: Trying to be perfect makes your brain miserable.


Detailed Procedures Are Great for Surgeons and Pilots


Procedures with a step-by-step checklist are essential when we have a known destination and specific route planned.  Explorers working on the edge of charted territories do not have maps with all the details, therefore detours and retracing steps are necessary tactics.  Making decisions without reference points becomes part art and part science.

I recently finished, In the Kingdom of Ice, an arctic tale that puts the Shackleton tale of survival on the second tier.  The crew of the USS Jeanette searched for the rumored open waters at the North Pole.  Committed to confirming the existence of ice-free waters at the most northern latitude they purposely sail thru the Bering Straight and into the arctic ice pack.


The USS Jeannette’s committed crew of explorers balanced naval protocol, 1800’s science, and explorer’s intuition to decide their fate.  They navigated haphazardly from vaguely detailed maps, celestial reference points, and the individual talents of the crew.  Big decisions had to be made throughout their quest.  There were no right answer, only an unflagging commitment to a journey that mattered.

After finishing the Kingdom of Ice, I read an article in Powder magazine about the human element as a cause of snow avalanches.  A case was made about the decision-making process necessary to decide when to proceed with skiing a slope and when to retreat.  The following decision-making paradigm was presented:

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What I like about this model is that it provides a role for individual people to channel.  Much like de Bono‘s Thinking Hats there is a perspective for each member of the team.


Checklists and procedures are critical.  I want airline pilots and surgeons not to skip steps because they have a hunch that everything is going to be all right.  I want explorers and those working on the edges to use the wisdom of their team when they commit to a course of action but also have clarity under what circumstances they will re-evaluate their decisions.

We are all working on projects that matter.  Our enterprises require us to make decisions that have significant impact.  How we decide is often as important as what we decide.

Two Roads Diverged and I Took the Third

Dan and Chip Heath have written some of my favorite books.  I lean heavily on their book Decisive when making significant decisions.  A daily decision-making experience we encounter involves either-or decisions which confront us daily in subtle ways.  Today, Election Day decision-making is far more public.  When only one candidate runs for office we are left with a choice to vote or pass onto another contest on the ballot (classic either-or scenario).   When two or more candidates are on the ballot we engaging in more sophisticated decision making strategies.

Michael Hyatt framed the decision-making challenges as follows:

  1. We have too narrow of focus. We are guilty of “spotlight thinking.” We focus on the obvious and visible. We miss important facts outside our immediate view.
  2. We fall into confirmation bias. We develop a quick belief about something and then seek out information that confirms that belief.
  3. We get caught in short-term emotion. We are too emotionally connected to the decision and struggle with being appropriately detached.
  4. We are guilty of overconfidence. We assume that we know more than we actually do know and jump to conclusions, thinking we can accurately predict the future.

So what is the Heath Brother’s better strategy for decision-making?  The WRAP Process articulates a simple by profound approach.

  1. Widen Your Options.  Avoid narrow framing and look for alternatives.
  2. Reality-Test Your Assumptions.  As disconfirming questions and zoom out in our focus.
  3. Attain Distance Before Deciding. Create distance by changing perspectives and avoiding short-term emotions.
  4. Prepare To Be Wrong.  Acknowledge our overconfidence and set trip wires to alert us when we are off-course.