Spur of the Moment

Last night I was in the Las Vegas airport, waiting for boarding to start on my flight. I went there an hour early because I didn’t have time to play poker, so I figured I could get on wifi and get some work done. I knocked out a couple small SETT bugs, and then remembered about getgoing.com, the YC-backed discount flight site. The way it works is you pick two deeply discounted flights that you’d be willing to take, put in your credit card, and getgoing picks one for you. You don’t know where you’re going until after you’ve paid. When I first got invited to the site I mucked around with it and found some really great fares to both Beijing and Shanghai.

Maybe I should go to China, I thought. Twenty minutes later my flight to Shanghai was booked.

I like making impulsive decisions like this. My past is filled with them, and none that I can think of have ended in regret. Actually, if I were asked what I thought my biggest strength is, I would probably say that it is making good decisions very quickly.

I wasn’t always good at making quick decisions. Twelve years ago I had the opportunity to fly on the Concorde for $1000. It was usually over $10,000 round trip. I really wanted to do it, so I called a few friends to see if anyone else was interested. There was some hemming and hawing, but no one was ready to commit. Well, I thought, I’ll wait until tomorrow and buy a ticket then if I still want to go. The next day came and the deal was gone. Now the Concorde is decommissioned and I’ll never have the chance to ride it. Strange is it sounds, this is probably one of the bigger regrets in my life. I really wish I got to ride the Concorde before it folded.

The most important thing to realize about quick decisions as that the amount of information you have about a decision tends to follow a logarithmic curve. The intial pieces of information are the most important, and subsequent bits add very little to your understanding of the decision. Think about the questions you’d ask if you were buying a car (I had no intention of buying a vehicle 24 hours before the purchase of most vehicles I’ve bought). At first you’d ask whether its still for sale, how many miles, and how the condition is. That fills in most of the blanks. Then you ask if the owner has ever had any problems. Somewhat important. Then you start asking if it has certain accessories or what kind of stereo it has. Those questions add very little to your understanding and, critcally, probably can’t change your decision.

With the Concorde deal, I knew a lot initially. I knew that I could ride the Concorde, knew how much it would cost, and where it was going. Most importantly, I knew that I could afford it and that I wanted to go. What additional information could POSSIBLY come in the following 24 hours that I gave myself to make the decision? I can’t think of any. The information you get early on in the decision is almost always enough to make a good decision. The rest of the information is generally immaterial, confusing, or will be interpreted to confirm the decision you already want to make (“Ooh, the weather is nice this time of year in London? Then I should DEFINITELY go!”).

Now I know better. I realized that the price to go to China was dirt cheap, that I like both Beijing and Shanghai, and that I want to go. What else could I possibly hope to know? More information could come that would make me even happier I”m going, but I can’t think of anything that could reasonably dissuade me from going. So I bought the ticket without really thinking much about it.

It’s also important to understand that very little you’ll do is really that big of a deal. Going to China for three weeks sounds like some big thing, but in practice it’s not much of anything. You sit on a plane for fifteen hours, probably getting some amazing work done, and then you’re in a new place surrounded by humans that aren’t all that different from the humans you live near. That’s not to diminish the awesomeness of traveling, only to illustrate that in reality the decision to take a trip like that isn’t really some big life decision that people might make it out to be. In particular, the possibly downsides of any decision you’re seriously considering will tend to be minimal.

Why not just take your time on decisions? First, you’ll miss opportunities all over the place. I missed the Concorde. When I found out that a room was open in Project Hollywood, I called and claimed it within an hour, despite living in Texas in a house I had a mortgage on. If I had given myself a day, I would have missed out on making a lot of great friends, having an incredible experience, and becoming a good pickup artist. Other guys gave themselves time to think and they missed out on all that. Maybe they’re kicking themselves like I do about the Concorde.

Beyond missing opportunities, you run the risk of wasting a lot of time if you take a while to make decisions. Chances are, 95% of them would have been made the same whether you gave yourself an hour or a day. I’m not convinced the remaining 5% would be better decisions due to contemplation, because often what happens is fear kicks in and you talk yourself out of doing something that would actually be good for you. At the same time, you’ve now wasted hours and hours of time being distracted by a decision instead of just choosing something and getting ready for your next decision.

Also, consider that some decisions will HAVE to be made quickly. If you’re not adept and making fast decisions, you will likely just default to taking the safe route, which is often synonymous with passing up good opportunities, becausey you’ll feel paralyzed by the deadline. Someone who makes fast decisions all the time will feel comfortable and make a good decision.

I’d rank quick decision making right up there in terms of skills that have been most beneficial to me. I’ve also seen others miss out on huge opportunities, not because they were any less intelligent than me, but because they couldn’t make a decision as quickly as I could. In extreme cases, I’ve seen people so affected by big decisions like what to do with their lives, that they avoid the decision and end up doing nothing at all. It’s scary. So next time you ave a “big decision”, challenge yourself to make it within an hour. If you’re too scared to do that, determine what you would have decided after an hour and see how it compares to your final decision. You’ll probably find that it’s exactly the same.

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Life Nomadic, rather Vida Nomada, is now available on Kindle. A huge thanks (and apology for taking forever to release this) to Carlos for painstakingly translating the whole thing, and to TJ for helping put it all together!

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