Heuristics influences marketing, management, software development, and decision-making. It contributes to algorithms and that pesky way that Amazon always “knows” what you want. This knack for cutting corners mentally to solve problems quickly and efficiently – heuristics – is one of many things that sets successful entrepreneurs apart.

Sometimes, small business owners get stuck. Worried about risk, debt, and growth, we can sometimes overthink things.

I admit that the best decisions are those made with the best information. The better your input the less likely you are to decide poorly. Good information reduces bias and develops structure for good decision-making.

Enter heuristics. Very simply, there is value in an approach that is more rule-of-thumb than the management school process of testing a hypothesis with evidence and results. There is a real place for decision-making on a trial and error basis. Mistakes may happen, but it encourages learning, solution evaluation, and deeper understanding.

Setting this fancy talk aside, you want to respect and develop a talent for cool thinking. For example, when you are up against a seemingly large and complex problem, with no clear solution, you need a system to help you think.

  1. Block out unessential information. Someone said, “when the going gets tough, the tough relax.” Remember that “C-file” we all learned about in time management classes? I suggest that you don’t even keep such a file; just burn it. Run away; take your laptop to some place quiet. Turn off any internet access. And, work on the problem without distractions for a pre-determined period, say, 30 minutes.
  2. Understand the Pareto Principle. 80% of the importance of a task comes from 20% of the work put into it. So, if you focus your energy on the critical 20%, you won’t overthink the non-critical 80%. Think of the pilot being forced to land on a river or a highway; there isn’t much training to fall back on, and there’s no time to weigh Plan A against Plan B.
  3. Separate important tasks from the urgent ones. It might be important to work out, read a good book, or have a nice lunch. But, these won’t make or break your business. Instead, determine what your personal peak productivity time is: early morning, mid-day, or even the middle of the night. Create walls around your peak productivity where you can work without bother or distraction.
  4. Set up a debriefing process. Knowing you are going to be making a difficult decision or a daring move, schedule a process where you can review and evaluate your decision, adjusting follow-through or implementing remedies.
  5. Take aim and fire. Think simple, and you will do a good enough job of solving enough problems. Move past indecision and take action. Visualize the result. Imagine yourself crossing the finish line. Clarify the problem in one sentence, and take a shot at fixing it. Jot things down, draw a picture, and make course corrections. Be ready to figure out things as you go along.

Imagine you need to move a product cross country despite a transit strike, inclement weather, and a three-day holiday. Think in a straight line until you hit a barrier. Move right until you can see a way forward. Go forward until you hit the next barrier, and continue as before. Eventually, you will see yourself at the end of your plan.


by Steven Schlagel