The No Decision Trap

When we have an important decision to make, we often fall prey to a most insidious trap. Wanting to make the right choice, we carefully weigh all our options before finalizing a decision. We gather information, solicit opinions, read articles, receive coaching, and consult with trusted mentors. With high stakes, we mistakenly believe that delaying or avoiding the decision altogether is a safe choice, while choosing a different path is the option with all the risk.

Yet the worst decision of all – nine times out of ten – is making no decision. The status quo can feel safe and comforting, but often turns out to be the devil in sheep’s clothing. We falsely believe that we can avoid the decision altogether by taking no action, but the truth is that no action is…in fact…a decision. Typically, a lousy one.

Maybe you’re frustrated at your job and are considering a change. You poke around employment boards, take an interview or two, but linger in the current gig because something new feels overwhelming and no perfect option has emerged. Problem is, each day that you dawdle in your existing role…that’s a decision itself, and unfortunately a far worse choice than new alternatives.

Or perhaps you’re considering a corporate brand overhaul. Your logo and colors feel like they’re straight out of the 1970’s (green shag carpet, groovy dark brown and orange lettering). You interview branding agencies, form a task force, and the process drags out for months. Maybe you’ll just hire a freelancer, you contemplate. But as you weigh your options in search of perfection, you’re still living with your horribly dated brand. With each passing day, you’ve chosen to stay trapped in the past instead of moving forward into fresh new territory.

American composer, artist, and philosopher John Cage said it best: “I can’t understand why people are frightened of new ideas. I’m frightened of the old ones.”

From technology upgrades to relocation possibilities to product overhauls to redefining stagnant interpersonal relationships, the change feels scary while the current state feels safe. Yet this blind spot has led to the downfall of too many careers, companies, and communities.

Instead, we owe it to ourselves to deeply consider the real risk of standing still, recognizing that every day we cling to the status quo is actually a decision to do so. If you don’t paint your house a new color, you’re choosing to keep the old one. If you want to drop 15 pounds but are waiting around for the next fad diet, you are choosing to remain unchanged.

Let’s recognize – once and for all – that doing nothing is a decision, and most often the wrong one. Avoid the No Decision Trap by carefully weighing the real risk of doing nothing while looking for ways to test new ideas without betting the farm.

Remember, no decision is a decision, and usually a really bad one.