Decision making. It stumps me. It stumps many. Can I share with you today an approach I was taught by my publisher Pat while I was editing Cosmopolitan?

Illustration by Adam Howling

Pat wasn’t really a philosophizer, and I’ve kind of repackaged her thoughts for present puposes. But Pat could certainly make decisions.

I’d asked her to sit down with the Cosmo team one afternoon for something I guess people in banking or IT sales would call a “developmental day”. At the end of the session, the art director raised her hand and asked Pat how she made decisions.

She answered without deliberating. “Well, let’s use an example. An editor comes to me with two cover options and I have to choose between Angelina in a green dress or Angelina in a black dress.

“If we’re actually debating the two covers, then it means both are good options.  Right? If one was bad, I’d let them know about it.”

“So I just choose one. It doesn’t matter which.”

I’d seen her do this many times before and it would unsettle me that she appeared to be so nonplussed.

Pat didn’t break it down, but I have many times in the retelling: on a two-party preferred basis, the black and green dress are likely to come in at roughly fifty-fifty. Sure, if we drilled down with a bunch of focus groups, the black dress option, for example, might come out marginally more popular – with, say, 54 per cent preferring it – and therefore it might be a better seller. But that’s not the point. As Pat explained:

what’s important about making a decision is the “just deciding” bit.

Because once you choose one – say, the black dress – you make it the best choice.

As editor I return to the office and announce to everyone that Pat and I love the black dress version. The art team, mostly relieved to have a decision, then create the best design and colour format around this. The art director has seen a black dress done with an aqua background and a flourescemt orange masthead done before. She’s pumped. The subbing team work coverlines enthusiastically. They’re loving the aqua treatment. Bit by bit the various departments massage Angelina-in-a-black dress to become a standout cover, the kind that when I walk past it on the newsstand would give me a satisfyingly quenched feeling.

When I send the final result to the printers, there’s no doubting we – all of us – made the best choice.

There is never a perfect decision. The best option transpires only because a decision of some sort was made that served as a stable base from which to build and create an end result.

We don’t have to be 100 per cent certain.

You never can be anyway; who has such a birdseye view? Are you God?

We just decide and make things matter a bit less. We just decide and we keep moving forward.

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