Do you remember what decision-making was like before the internet?
I’m 31, just old enough to remember life before constant connection. If you needed information, you asked the smartest people you knew and read the best books you could get your hands on. It was a laborious process, but it had a natural end point: you gathered what information you could, and that was it. Time to decide.
Ours is a brave new world. Information-gathering has become exponentially easier, and that’s mostly a good thing. It’s pretty amazing to pull out my smartphone, google “mantis shrimp” and double my shrimp-related knowledge in two minutes. (And you should do that, by the way: the mantis shrimp is a top-notch shrimp. But please finish this article first!)
A hidden downside to this endless stream of information: when it comes to decision-making, it’s no longer clear when we should stop researching and start taking action. There’s always more to discover, and this makes decision-making a lot harder.
Imagine you’re a pilot guiding a jetliner down the runway. You know how long the runway is, and you know you better take off before you reach the end of it. If you don’t, bad things will happen.
Now imagine piloting an aircraft down an infinite runway. The asphalt stretches ahead of you to a vanishing point, and you can take off whenever you like. No hurry.
We live on an infinite runway. There’s always more to research, always more to discover. The pertinent information is unlimited, and it’s always tempting to collect just a little bit more.
A distinction worth remembering: Highly successful people account for the infinite runway. Some have learned when to say “Okay, that’s enough research. Time to act.” Others commit to external deadlines, using accountability to force their future selves into action.
If you’ve spent a lot of time gathering information but haven’t made a decision, it might be time to put the plane in the air.
(And now, you should google “mantis shrimp.”)