Pay enough attention
My late aunty Joan was a truly incredible person. She was New Zealand’s first female reconstructive surgeon, and also the country’s first and foremost specialist in hand surgery.
Hands are incredibly complicated pieces of biological engineering, and after being crushed in a workplace incident or a vehicle collision, putting one back together in a way that it will still allow it’s owner to use it for the rest of their lives is, well… tricky.
After a career of honing her craft, one of the key insights she acquired in relation to solving complicated problems was this:
If you pay enough attention to the information in front of you, you never have to make a decision.
—Dr. Joan Chapple
Decisions are what you have to make when you have imperfect information. There’s nothing wrong with that, but what aunty Joan’s insight points to is that we often have another option when faced with a decision between multiple possible courses of action. We can choose to dig deeper, and observe the information in front of us with increasing detail, until we discover something that indicates one course of action is optimal compared with the other choices. Keep digging, and you’ll always find some unsuspecting nugget of critical data lying there just waiting to see the light of day.
At that point, the decision is made for you.
This approach has helped me in all kinds of situations over the years. In many ways it’s similar to answering “none of the above”, except it’s almost the diametric opposite—instead of calling the context of the decision into question, you’re directly challenging the notion that you’re stuck with imperfect information.
Next time you have a decision to make, try looking closer at the information instead.
In 2001, Joan made the Queen’s Birthday Honours List for services to medicine and the community. If you’d like to read a bit more about my aunty Joan and her story, here’s an excerpt from a NZ Herald article she was featured in a few years ago.