(see also CHOICE)
Former president Ronald Reagan once had an aunt who took him to a cobbler for a pair of
new shoes. The cobbler asked young Reagan, "Do you want square toes or round
toes?" Unable to decide, Reagan didn't answer, so the cobbler gave him a few days.
Several days later the cobbler saw Reagan on the street and asked him again what kind of
toes he wanted on his shoes. Reagan still couldn't decide, so the shoemaker replied,
"Well, come by in a couple of days. Your shoes will be ready." When the future
president did so, he found one square-toed and one round-toed shoe! "This will teach
you to never let people make decisions for you," the cobbler said to his indecisive
customer. "I learned right then and there," Reagan said later, "if you
don't make your own decisions, someone else will."
Today in the Word, MBI, August,
1991, p. 16.
During World War II, Winston Churchill was forced to make a painful choice. The British
secret service had broken the Nazi code and informed Churchill that the Germans were going
to bomb Coventry. He had two alternatives: (1) evacuate the citizens and save hundreds of
lives at the expense of indicating to the Germans that the code was broken; or (2) take no
action, which would kill hundreds but keep the information flowing and possibly save many
more lives. Churchill had to choose and followed the second course.
Klyne Snodgrass, Between Two Truths -
Living with Biblical Tensions, 1990, Zondervan Publishing House, p. 179.
The hardest thing to learn in life is which bridge to cross and which to burn.
When in charge, ponder. When in trouble, delegate. When in doubt, mumble.
Take time to deliberate; but when the time for action arrives, stop thinking and go on.
It may be true that there are two sides to every question, but it is also true that
there are two sides to a sheet of flypaper, and it makes a big difference to the fly which
side he chooses.
In my search for an assistant, I had narrowed the applicants to two women. One had more
experience; the other was more personable. I headed for my boss's office, still undecided.
Realizing I needed help, he produced a quarter, saying, "Heads, It's experience.
Tails, it's personality." He flipped the quarter into the air and then asked,
"Quick! What are you thinking?" "Tails," I blurted. It was true. I had
been wishing it would come up tails. The quarter landed in his palm and without looking at
it, he said, "Call Personnel with your executive decision."
Donna Paciullo, in
A husband and wife, prior to marriage, decided that he'd make all the major decisions
and she the minor ones. After 20 years of marriage, he was asked how this arrangement had
worked. "Great! in all these years I've never had to make a major decision."
A farmer hired a man to work for him. He told him his first task would be to paint the
barn and said it should take him about three days to complete. But the hired man was
finished in one day. The farmer set him to cutting wood, telling him it would require
about 4 days. The hired man finished in a day and a half, to the farmer's amazement. The
next task was to sort out a large pile of potatoes. He was to arrange them into three
piles: seed potatoes, food for the hogs, and potatoes that were good enough to sell. The
farmer said it was a small job and shouldn't take long at all. At the end of the day the
farmer came back and found the hired man had barely started. "What's the matter
here?" the farmer asked. "I can work hard, but I can't make decisions!"
replied the hired man.
In April, 1986, Larry Burkett (on his radio program) spoke of a young couple who wanted
to buy a home, but felt it to be too expensive for them. They told God, "If you want
us to buy it, 1) have the contractor accept only 1/2 of what he's asking for the
down payment, and 2) have the bank approve our loan. Both events happened and they bought
the home. They soon began to go into debt. The problem: what to do now, since God
"directed" them to do this!
I remember one winter my dad needed firewood, and he found a dead tree and sawed it
down. In the spring, to his dismay, new shoots sprouted around the trunk. He said, "I
thought sure it was dead. The leaves had all dropped in the wintertime. It was so cold
that twigs snapped as if there were no life left in the old tree. But now I see that there
was still life at the taproot." He looked at me and said, "Bob, don't forget
this important lesson. Never cut a tree down in the wintertime. Never make a negative
decision in the low time. Never make your most important decisions when you are in your
worst mood. Wait. Be patient. The storm will pass. The spring will come."
Robert H. Schuller, Tough Times Never Last, But Tough People
Do!, Thomas Nelson.
Irving Janis lists some of the symptoms of groupthink in his study of high-level
governmental decision makers:
-Prime among these is the sharing of an illusion of invulnerability which leads to
over optimism and causes planners to fail to respond to clear warnings of danger and be
willing to take extraordinary risks.
-Secondly, the participants in groupthink ignore warnings and construct rationalizations in
order to discount them.
-Third, victims of groupthink have an unquestioned belief in the inherent morality of
their in group actions, inclining the members to ignore the ethical or moral consequences
of their decisions.
-Fourth, victims of groupthink hold stereotyped views of the leaders of enemy groups. They
are seen as so evil that there is no warrant for arbitration or negotiation or as too weak
or too stupid to put up an effective defense.
-Fifth, victims of groupthink, says Janis, apply direct pressure on any individual who
momentarily expresses doubts about any of the group's shared illusions, or questions the
validity of the arguments.
-Sixth, unanimity becomes an idol. Victims of groupthink avoid deviating from what appears
to be the group consensus; they keep silent about their misgivings and even minimize to
themselves the importance of their doubts.
Victims of groupthink sometimes appoint themselves as "mindguards" to protect
the leader and fellow members from adverse information. Janis quotes Robert Kennedy as
having taken one of the members of the group aside and told him, "You may be right or
you may be wrong, but the President has made his mind up. Don't push it any further. Now
is the time for everyone to help him all they can." Janis also lists some of the
symptoms of the resulting inadequacy of problem-solving. Among these are the limitation of
discussion to only a few alternative courses of action, the failure to reexamine some of
the initially preferred and now discarded courses of action, and the failure to seek
information from experts within the same organization who could supply more precise
estimates of possible losses and gains from alternate courses of action.
Whatever Became of Sin?, pp. 96, 97; Irving L. Janis, "Groupthink,"
Psychology Today, 5:43 (November, 1971).
Statistics and Stuff
The words of Eleanor Roosevelt ring true: One's philosophy is not best expressed in
words. It is expressed in the choices one makes. In the long run, we shape our lives and
we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And the choices we make are
ultimately our responsibility.
Tim Kimmel, Little House on the Freeway,
Years ago a professor at Stanford devised a check lest of nine questions that can be
applied to any problem. Used as a self- quiz, the questions spur imagination. They are:
1. Is there a new way to do it?
2. Can you borrow or adapt?
3. Can you give it a new twist?
4. Do you merely need more of the same?
5. Less of the same?
6. Is there a substitute?
7. Can the parts be rearranged?
8. What if we do just the opposite?
9. Can ideas be combined?
Bits & Pieces, February, 1990, p. 20.
While an open mind is priceless, it is priceless only when its owner has the courage to
make a final decision which closes the mind for action after the process of viewing all
sides of the question has been completed. Failure to make a decision after due
consideration of all the facts will quickly brand a man as unfit for a position of
responsibility. Not all of your decisions will be correct. None of us is perfect. But if
you get into the habit of making decisions, experience will develop your judgment to a
point where it is better to be right fifty percent of the time and get something done,
than it is to get nothing done because you fear to reach a decision.
Actually, a manager needs the ability not only to make good decisions himself, but also
to lead others to make good decisions. Charles Moore, after four years of research at the
United Parcel Service reached the following conclusions:
1. Good decisions take a lot of time.
2. Good decisions combine the efforts of a number of people.
3. Good decisions give individuals the freedom to dissent.
4. Good decisions are reached without any pressure from the top to reach an artificial
5. Good decisions are based on the participation of those responsible for implementing
Charles W.L. Foreman, "Managing a Decision Into Being," from the
Course for Presidents, pp.3-4.
What kind of person is best able to involve others and himself in good decision making?
J. Keith Louden lists seven qualities:
1. The ability to look ahead and see what's coming -- foresight.
2. Steadiness, with patience and persistence and courage.
3. A buoyant spirit that in spite of cares generates confidence.
4. Ingeniousness, the ability to solve problems soundly yet creatively.
5. The ability to help others.
6. Righteousness, the willingness to do the right thing and speak the truth.
7. Personal morality of a quality that commands the respect of others.**
J. Keith Louden, "Leadership," from the Management Course for
To every man there openeth
A way, and ways, and a way.
And some men climb the high way,
And some men grope below,
And in between on the misty flats
The rest drift to and fro.
And to every man there openeth
A high way and a low;
And every man decideth
Which way his soul shall go.