A Bias for Action

A colleague once asked me if I had a bias for action. And I’ll admit that it really gave me pause.

I personally feel that I’m particularly experienced and motivated to enter situations that have stalled or stagnated and inject fresh energy and decision making into the mix. And that, generally, the results are favorable. I had not really sat down to think through my decision making matrix and write it down before.

This is my attempt at explaining my core decision making process.


My happy place is in the chaos of design, the space that exists where answers have not yet been found. This can be a scary place, for the unknown is dark and full of failures. Many people are impacted, and will continue to be impacted further, based on decisions made. That is by definition a stressful situation.

But take heart, adventurer, for the very act of failing means bets are being placed, risks are being taken, and the opportunity for learning is present. It’s what we do with failure that matters. These little teaching moments are data points that point and whisper in new directions.

Something I write, erase, and re-write at the top of my whiteboard: the most important step is the next one.

Foundational Mindset

When I see something unknown or risky or interesting, I think of the foundational mindset needed to take a leap forward and decide on something. These are a sort of lens that I apply when seeking out data and information. My goal is to feel aligned to this mindset, trusting gut feelings lacerated by a LOT of mistakes made.

The foundational mindset is a combination of three things:

  1. Honesty yields truth (especially of the self)
  2. Listening makes people real (people remember how you make them feel)
  3. Lead your people to success (be a lighthouse)

If you’re not steering in a direction that maintains or improves the foundational mindset, it’s likely a bad decision to make or has some consequential tradeoffs that may not be worth making.

Honesty is a hard one. We all like to believe that we’re honest people, and yet we lie in a million different ways to others and ourselves. True honesty is not pretty, it’s often not fun, and it’s rarely rewarded directly. But it yields real and tangible results because the truth IS reality. It means telling people what you really think. It means delivering bad news and hard truths. Honesty is the only true road to the building of trust and loyalty for those with which we work.

Leadership of people (without being told) is the spark that ignites the entire process. It is seeing a team that has stopped moving. It is seeing an individual that is stuck. It is seeing groups working in opposite directions from one another. It is the need to make these things better beyond the details and being someone who can raise their hand and say “I think this is a problem” and then finding the right people to help solve it. Sometimes the person to solve it is you, and other times it is not; but these are just the details.

See Starting Your Leadership Journey for more on this.

Active listening is about removing yourself from the equation and seeing the problems and data for what they are. There is a magic in letting a system self-reveal itself to you. Listening isn’t about fixing things, or changing things, but instead trying to truly understand them to the degree that you can feel them in your guts. Because if you can’t feel it, then you don’t really understand the pain and will have a reduced chance of resolving the pain.

Foundational Outcomes

The other way I look at decision making are the outcomes achieved. And I believe there are foundational outcomes that guide the path forward towards better decision making.

The foundational outcomes are:

  • Velocity improvements help people, products, and processes and must be sustainable and scalable
  • Joy is the ultimate metadata with which to measure, and is the anathema to friction (again, people remember how you make them feel)
  • Growth is the opportunity to learn by making decisions where the answer impacts the collective knowledge of the team

Much like with the foundational mindset, if you’re not steering in a direction that maintains or improves these foundational outcomes, it’s likely a bad decision to make or has some consequential tradeoffs that may not be worth making.

Velocity is the measure of speed that a TEAM can go together. If a decision helps a team go faster – more story points, more features, fewer defects, quicker decision making – then you are having a velocity impact. If your source of pain is a bottleneck in the system, meaning downstream dependencies exist or the sum output of the product is reduced in some way, then positively impacting velocity makes sense. The only speed we truly care about is sustainable speed.

Joy is an interesting one. Joyful systems and joyful work are signals, and typically inversely correlated to the toil and friction required to operate a system. Meaning, joyful systems are often in such a state because they are well designed and well run. Therefore, I consider this the super-metric to measure success in a vacuum. Also, joyful work is, in my experience, higher quality with reduced defects and greater organizational level impacts.

Growth is about embracing learning opportunities. It’s about stepping out of comfort zones to tackle new challenges. It involves supporting an environment where experimentation and mistakes are seen as essential for continuous improvement. A dynamic, adaptable team that continually evolves, gaining new skills and insights to handle future challenges more effectively, is a healthy team and has the best shot at being a high performing team.


That’s it. Just boil honesty, listening, leadership, velocity, joy, and growth into a sort of Horn of Gondor to help light the beacons of decision making. ;)

By the way, “lead your people” can apply to anyone and everyone – leadership is not a job, it’s a privilege.

This is, for me, the Joy of Design.