The times when I implement “thinking gray,” I have most often saved myself from making a poor decision and usually save myself time. Steven Sample, in his book The Contrarians Guide to Leadership, unpacks the idea of “thinking gray.”
The major takeaway is this: when an important decision isn’t mandated to be made at the moment it’s asked for, pause and think gray. Thinking gray means this:
- Back away;
- Don’t pull the trigger when more time could help bring clarity;
- And set the decision point just prior to the deadline for the decision.
It may seem as if you’re dragging things out and procrastinating. But the created mean-time can provide your answer. What transpires before the decision deadline can be magical.
The people asking for your decision often find other ways to go about getting what they need. The decision-seekers think creatively and often think of a work-around to get a solution. And oftentimes, some external factor occurs and renders your pending decision null.
Thinking gray also gives you time to think clearly and do a virtual SWOT in your head. Many times you’ll come back to your initial thought (gut reaction) on making the decision. But many times, things change, and you have no decision to make.
When you can save your decision-making for the highest leadership questions—the decisions no else can make—the better off you and your organization will be. You only have so much personal power, and saving that power for critical decisions has pay-offs.
A simple way to begin the process of “thinking gray” is to ask these questions when a decision has been requested:
- What options and solutions have you (the asker) considered?
- Who else is involved in making the decision?
- What’s the deadline for a decision being reached?
By nature, I tend to be black and white. I like quick results. But paradoxically, thinking gray has served me well and might do the same for you.