Framework for making Big Decisions

24. August 2012 20:37 by Jay Grossman in   //  Tags: , , , ,   //   Comments (0)

Choosing a fulfilling career path is such a difficult task, and I see many people have no idea where to even start (including myself). I routinely find myself asking my friends and coworkers "what do you want to do long term in your career" or "what do you want to be when you grow up". I seem to hear the following responses repeatedly:

  • I am OK with what I am doing now (most of the time this is not actually true)
  • I don't know / I am not really sure
  • I want to get to the next level (be promoted to a manager) of what I am currently doing
  • I'd like to or I am going to school and the degree is what is stopping me from getting to that next level
  • I have an idea for starting a company or building a new product, but I don't know how to start
  • I'd like to start a company, but I don't have an idea. 

My time working for DELL instilled me the process of defining the problem statement, defining goals needed to solve the problem, defining S-M-A-R-T objectives to meet the goals. This has been a process I have used as a manager and seen it work with decent effectiveness in certain situations. It is certainly better than not having a structured approach to determine a career path.

Last year I randomly stumbled on a post on Hacker News with the attention getting title "How I made a Principled decision to quit my Six Figure job" posted by Tawheed Kader (TK). I was not so impressed that someone was leaving a stable Hedge Fund job to chase the startup dream, but I was really interested how he detailed his decision making process. He wrote the following about the indecision he faced, which I think a good many people also experience:

You see, in my gut I knew, I knew that what I really wanted was something of my own. Something more cutting edge than Enterprise Products in a Financial Services Firm, and most importantly, something that had the potential to change the world, but that alone wasn’t enough for me to just quit my job and give up everything I had been working toward. I needed more. And even in needing more, there seemed like so many possibilities, that sense of “obvious next step” just wasn’t there. Do I keep working and grow my career? Do I quit and join a startup? Do I apply to YCombinator? Do I bootstrap? Do I do consulting? There were just so many factors, so many possible paths! I didn’t want just soft soul-searching, I wanted a raw and hard analytical assessment of what I wanted out of life and how I could go about attaining it.

TK came up with a really interesting framework asking someone to answer 5 questions. It works really well when you write out the questions and answers on a big whiteboard (as TK did below), as opposed to thinking about them or putting them on paper.

The Framework

Step 1 — What are my values?

This about defining "Who am I? what are my values?” All constraints, circumstances and situations barred, what’re the things that make you tick?

Step 2 — What do I want my life to be about?

Armed with a set of values that deeply resonated with with who you are, then you can venture off to answer the question “What do I want?” — more concretely, given your values and the things that are important to you, what do I want to be doing on this planet?

I like to equate Step 1 and 2 to "Defining the Problem". Understanding what is important to you and the high level of what you want.

Step 3 — Elaborate on what you want and value

This is where you set some kind of goals to align your values and what you want your life to be about. This could be statements like - I want to be happy, I want to learn XYZ, I want to be well compensated, I want independence or autonomy, I want to spend time with my friends, I want to build something cool, etc.

It may be a good idea to further elaborate on these statements to clarify their meaning. If it's something that you truly value or want, you should be able to come up with a clear definition of what the statement means to you.

Step 4 — Compare/Contrast between your desired reality and your current

So, here's where you do a quick Gap Analysis - you'll need to compare your desires/goals to your reality.

It’s up to you how much you choose to write down for this step, or how much you want to visualize. For me, it was more about looking at my current reality and visualizing what the reality that I wrote out in my picture would look like and comparing and contrasting between the two.

Step 5 — NOW, devise your plan

Now that you’ve got a set of things that you want, a visualization of your current reality and an idea of the difference between the two, It's time for you to set real objectives and plan around achieving them.

The idea is to put together a plan that you will likely be accomplish and measure that the end state is satisfactory.

I am a big believer in setting S-M-A-R-T objectives. SMART stands for SIMPLE, MEASURABLE, ATTAINABLE, REALISTIC, TIMELY. For each realistic goal that you set, you should be able to define a concrete set of tasks that allows you to meet that goal. 

The Framework in Action

So I have gone through the exercise of answering the questions of the framework for myself and I have moderated similar sessions for some of my friends. It forces you to be honest with yourself and clearly define what is most important to you - not necessarily what is expected of you by family/friends/employer. If being creative is really important to you, than write it down and build a plan to get yourself there.

It usually takes about 1-2 hours to fully work through all the questions. Everyone I persuaded to try it has had positive feedback about it. One of my friends decided to change professions after experiencing this framework. Another decided to stop procrastinating, and start working on startup idea he has been putting off.

Personally, it has helped me quite a bit. It opened me up to consider things I had previously de-prioritized. It has validated that some of the things I was doing were in support of my values/goals. I decided to launch this blog site as a direct response to one of the objectives I set.


About the author

Jay Grossman

techie / entrepreneur that enjoys:
 1) my kids + awesome wife
 2) building software projects/products
 3) digging for gold in data sets
 4) my various day jobs
 5) rooting for my Boston sports teams:
    New England PatriotsBoston Red SoxBoston CelticsBoston Bruins

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