When David Ulevitch was a CEO, he initially thought he was supposed to have all of the answers. In his journey (and it’s quite the journey, check out his a16z interview here), he realized how answers and decisions are not the same things, and it’s a serious mistake to conflate the two.
Answers are certainties. Four is what we get when we add two and two. Four is an answer.
Decisions are actions. We rarely have a perfectly certain answer as a guaranteed outcome for our actions. Choosing to add two and two with the expectation of getting four is a decision.
When we’re leading, or advising, it can help to separate between the two. Ulevitch says there’s always room around the table for a person who doesn’t know what they’re doing. Not in the idiot sense, but in the open to a wide range of possibilities sense. That person has an open mind and open eyes, the knowledge that a decision will have to be made, and the power to make that decision.
Whether we’re advising clients or determining a business decision of our own, our job isn’t to have the answer. Let others provide us with the information to inform our opinions. Listen intently. After we’ve taken it in, it’s time to decide and execute. We won’t always be right, but that’s what should keep us humble and listening to others in the first place.
Embrace and own the decisions, not the answers. There will be another to make. And another, and another…