10 X 3 = Better Decisions

POSTED: Dec. 09, 2016

Question Mark PhotoNo matter what your job or level in your organization, you have to make an unending stream of decisions. Many of them you can easily make on the fly because you have all the information you need and the results of a bad or incorrect decision are minor:

•    Would the brown or black shoes go better with this outfit?
•    Which task should I work on next?
•    Should I listen to AC/DC or Enya while I work on the budget?

Other decisions require deeper thought because of their importance: 

•    Do I buy a new computer or keep using my old one?
•    Should I hire a new employee or keep getting by with the existing team?
•    Should I attend a business conference or stay home?

One of the common traits of human behavior is that, when making decisions, we typically evaluate the choices based on our perspectives and emotions at the moment. That results in decisions focused on the “right-now” or a very short-time horizon. You can probably recall impulse purchases that seemed like a great idea at the time, but once you got the item home, you wondered what in the world you were thinking. 

I have just such a purchase on my desk right now. My wife and I visited a store in Columbus that had dozens of humorous thoughts painted on rustic wood. Our favorite one read, “Your stupid is showing. You might want to tuck that in.” Hilarious! We must have that!! But we’re feeling pretty stupid ourselves, having spent $40 for something that went straight to the garage sale box. 

When people recall some of their worst decisions, they can almost always site some emotion that drove them to make that decision. Whether it was anger, jealously, greed or another of our more base feelings, they are often the culprit when smart people make dumb choices. This is true in both our professional and personal lives. 

A powerful but simple way to see through the short-term emotions and take a clearer, longer-term view when it comes to decision making is the 10-10-10 process. This short, simple technique ensures that you consider the long-term consequences, good and bad, of your decisions. 

The process was the brainchild of Suzy Welch, author and former editor-in-chief of the Harvard Business Review, who described it in her book “10-10-10: A Fast and Powerful Way to Get Unstuck in Love, at Work, and with Your Family.”

Here’s how it works. When faced with an important decision, ask yourself these questions about your response:

What will the consequences be in the next 10 minutes or the short term?
What will the consequences be in the next 10 months or the mid-term?
What will the consequences be in the next 10 years or the long term?

I often change the increments to 10 minutes, 10 days and 10 months because it’s hard to look out 10 years. The benefits of the process are the same as long as you consider the decision’s short-, medium- and long-term consequences.

Taking a minute to run your pending decision through this process helps reduce the number of times you will look back with regret on a decision. Projecting the consequences into the future ensures fewer “What was I thinking?!” and more “That was brilliant!!” decisions. 

10-10-10 Applied to Delegation

The 10-10-10 process is an effective technique when making any significant decision, but it is especially valuable for managers and supervisors when thinking about a delegation opportunity. Using the process encourages them to take a longer view that increases their success in developing new strengths and skills in their subordinates. How so? 

Let’s say you are Jamie’s manager and thinking about delegating responsibility to her for preparing a monthly report to your company’s leadership team. Your self-talk would probably be along the lines of:

“I’ll probably spend more time explaining the assignment than it would take to do it myself. Jamie hasn’t done this before, so it’s going to take longer for her to do it than it would for me, and there’s a good chance she’ll make errors.”

And, naturally, the delegation doesn’t happen. That’s short term, 10-minute-away thinking. Let’s zoom out to the medium-range timeframe and reconsider the decision from that perspective.

“I still have to check the reports before they go to the leadership team, but Jamie does most of the work on it now and that frees time on my calendar. It also gives her some face time with our leadership she hadn’t had before. That increases her self-confidence and engagement.”

Now we’re seeing mostly positives. Let’s recalibrate again, this time to the long-range view.

“I don’t have to worry at all about that routine report anymore. I built a lot of trust with Jamie because she knows I support her professional development. She’s added new skills and is eager to take on other responsibilities. That gives my area more depth and resilience, and builds my reputation as an effective manager.”

When viewed in the long-term timeframe, there are nothing but positives and they all represent significant organizational benefits. 


In describing Welch’s book, one reviewer called 10-10-10 a “transformative solution ... helping us tease apart our deepest goals and values, candidly face our fears and dreams, and rid ourselves of frustration and regret.” 

Wow, a life free of frustration and regret. That might be a reach. But there’s no doubt that spending a minute or two running your decisions through the 10-10-10 filter will help you consistently make better professional and personal decisions.