The Lesser of Two Evils

How many times in life have we been in a situation where we were supposed to make a choice, a choice not based on what was good and what we really liked, but to pick the lesser of two evils?

We make those kinds of choices with trivial unimportant things, like deciding between the last two not-so-great-looking loafs of bread on the supermarket shelf, or decisions during political elections that (we think) may influence significantly our lives and society in general. We can also see these kinds of decisions in very personal issues like love life. I know some people who decided to marry someone at certain age not because he/she was so good and they loved each other very much, but simply because he/she was less bad than some other option or being alone.

But why must we make decisions like these? Why don’t we simply avoid them? It’s clear. Due to pressure.

If we don’t buy bread we don’t like and it is midnight, we will be hungry because there are no other stores open. If we don’t vote at all, it may happen the worst candidate wins. If we don’t get married until certain age, in some communities, pressure can be so huge that having any kind of partner is better than not having a partner at all.

In business, it’s very similar. We make many decisions on a daily basis. And we are lucky if majority is trying to find good or the best choice. Very often we just choose between two options full of compromises, half-solutions, mistakes that we foresee, but cannot avoid…

How to approach decision making in such a situation? I will give you my experience which is based on several key pillars:

  • get the job done
  • protect personal integrity
  • learn something for the future

And bear in mind: what I’m writing here is a survival kit, not business philosophy! I’m not proud to present this, but I find it useful.

First of all, I think that when you are deciding on how to choose the “less bad” option you should protect yourself. The fact that you are in front of such a choice in a complex business environment is most likely not your fault. If it’s not your fault, why would you take the biggest risk when making that decision? I know that this might sound as lack of managerial courage but actually it’s the matter of basic logic and not buying a bullshit philosophy about sacrificing for the business purpose. It also helps in healing the “serious disease” that many of us are suffering from: overestimating our personal importance.

Then, you should do a calculation. Since the goal of all businesses is to make money, make a calculation which of the options will bring you the most. Of course, you have to take into account, short-term, mid-term, long-term goals, impact etc. But, use the most logical time-frame that is of interest to your superiors. This is maybe not the 100% honorable thing to do, but it’s smart.

When you make a choice and see results – celebrate it! I know it sounds silly, but compare this with being unsatisfied for years with political regime in power. Are you going to cry for decades? Are you going to feel like a loser due to that? You can, but you shouldn’t. The same goes with getting the job done. Is it fantastic and ideal? Not. But can you live with it? Yes, and you can live quite a good life actually.

Analyze why you are in such a situation. But again, be very pragmatic. Do not analyze why such situation happened. Analyze only why are you in it and how to avoid it next time. If we go back to politics again, in many cases the only solution is immigration. That might be the case in business as well. But be aware that you might not be able to find an environment without those decisions. So, it’s better to learn how to avoid it.

And in the end, imagine your ideal situation. For me, that is comparable to fashion and style choices. Can you set up your working environment and your mindset the way shopping works? A lot of choices, but none of them are good or bad per se. They either suit you well or they don’t. Can you work toward such an attitude?

If you can – cheers! You will live a happy life.

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