Try On The Decision For 30 Days

I’ve made a lot of major decisions in my life – both personal and professional. For the professional ones, I’ve come up with an approach that I now use consistently. I try on the decision for a period of time – the more significant the decision, the longer the period of time. For the really major decisions, I try them on for 30 days.

Here’s an example. In 2003 I seriously thought about quitting Mobius Venture Capital. I was tired, burned out, and very frustrated. While I’d been a partner in Mobius from the beginning, I hadn’t really been engaged in managing the overall firm. I had my office and a small team in Boulder. I did my deals. I flew to the bay area often (where everyone else was located) but focused most of my energy on the boards I was on and the investments I’d made.

My whole world blew up in 2001. My portfolio melted down with the bursting of the Internet bubble. I was on way too many boards (over 25 – including four public company boards) so the entire thing was a total shit show. In addition to being miserable at work every day, I was 30 pounds overweight, drinking too much, traveling constantly, and involved in laying off thousands of people and shutting down over a dozen companies.

Then, on 9/11, all Americans participated in a massively traumatic event. I was in New York for it, having taken a redeye the night before from San Francisco. I was never in harms way, but 9/11 triggered a major depressive episode for me. When I got home to Boulder the night of 9/12 (after driving all night on 9/11 and all day on 9/12) I shut down all travel through the end of the year.

The depressive episode only lasted three months, but the shit show continued through 2002 as most VCs and Internet companies suffered a massive collapse. While my world started to settle down in mid-2002, the rest of Mobius started to more aggressively fall apart. There was no joy anywhere.

In early 2003, I started to think about leaving Mobius. While I was trying to be helpful in general to the firm and my partners, I didn’t like the way we were operating. I felt like we had way too many people, too much denial about the reality of our situation, and were making many bad decisions simply to defer the inevitable pain that was resulting from the collapse of the Internet bubble.

I woke up one morning in February 2003 and decided to spend a little time each day pretending like I had quit Mobius. I allowed myself to think about it twice a day – when I first woke up and when I went to bed at night. During the day I continued to work my ass off on everything I was doing for Mobius. But I gave myself two periods a day where I contemplated what a different work life might look like.

During these periods, I wrote down what I was relieved about. As the month went on, at the end of the day I started writing down what I was unhappy about at Mobius. In the morning I’d clear my mind as though I didn’t have anything in front of me to deal with that day, and then go into battle and deal with whatever was in front of me. At the end of the day, I’d repeat the thought process. And, at least once a week, I talked to Amy about what I was thinking about.

A clear pattern emerged for me. I didn’t dislike the work, even though most of it was not very fun. I felt a strong sense of responsibility for Mobius since I had helped create and contribute to the mess we were in. I felt a deep obligation to all the various people involved – the founders we had invested in, our LPs, and all the people who were still working for Mobius. But I didn’t feel engaged in the decision making that we – as a firm – were doing to get out of the ditch we were in.

After 30 days, I had a clear understanding that quitting Mobius was not the right answer for me. Instead, I needed to commit to engaging completely and taking responsibility for the whole firm, not just my corner of it. This didn’t mean taking over everything, but it did mean going all in on trying to make things better, whatever that meant.

In March 2003 I fully engaged in Mobius. While 2003 – 2006 was an incredible grind, I look back on that time period as one that I am satisfied with as we did manage to get Mobius to a stable place. I learned an incredible amount about running a VC firm through the work I did in that time period. And, with my partner Jason, we still manage what is left of the portfolio (still several hundred million of assets) simply because it is the right thing to do for the LPs.

When I reflect on the decision, I was only able to make it because I gave myself 30 days to really consider the decision and the various options. I’ve used this approach many times since, for decisions large and small, and it has served me well.

  • Dude, I’m almost ready to cry. It’s not only moral fiber you’ve got, it’s more like carbon fiber. Reading this made my day. Thank you.

  • 30 days might be a lot better than “sleeping on it”! 9/11 was so weird. My family and I were living in a motel, having been put out of our home by a water leak (14,000 gallons of water destroyed it). I was feeling sorry for myself and then 9/11 happened. Then a close friend died suddenly. My problems were small-and compared to yours smaller.

    My gut says even though 2003-06 sucked, the next time you hit a sucky period you will do more than “power through”.

    • I’ve hit lots of sucky periods since. The six month depressive episode I had at the end of 2012 / beginning of 2013 was one of the worst for me so far in my life. And a continuous set of “mysterious middle aged guy health things”, none of which turned out to be serious but took a year to figure out as I was approaching 50, where also particularly sucky. In both cases, I powered through, but also used the suckyness to re-evaluate how I was approaching things and grow / evolve from there.

  • Pierre Powell

    Brad, I like your blog a lot. I have two thoughts.

    1. Trying on a decision is a great thing or being present to your gut. Like in Blink (Gladwell), during my 21 years experience in the Air Force, I found that my subconscious, gut, whatever, provided me excellent feedback about a decision about 90% of the time. The other 10%, I was willing to say sorry and go a different direction. This meant taking that moment to be present to what my gut was saying and my body was mirroring/feeling.
    2. Pretend strategy. I love pretend strategy. It seems to blow-up my neuro-pathways in regard to negative beliefs/behaviors/feelings. By pretending I am in an issue, lets say “pretending” to be angry about my son’s college GPA, it doesn’t seem so bad. I pretend I’m angry and start laughing at myself. So when the real issue shows up (usually every semester), my bias / programming doesn’t tigger, letting me provide the response I feel good about. Similarly, there is certainly a “visualization” aspect, of visualizing the scenario prior, for example in “chair” flying, I would often practice flight maneuvers in my dining room the morning before a flight usually with very positive outcomes in the air.
    Anyway, loved the post.

    • I like the pretend strategy concept. I’m going to play around with that.

    • I like strategy #2; it reminds me of Napoleon Hill’s Visualization Exercise. I have often found this a fascinating preparation feature of our mind to run possible outcomes. I find leisure walking is a good time to run this strategy.

  • DaveJ

    I recall two particular major life decisions that you “tried on” in the salad days that were for different periods of time, and it didn’t work as well. One, you went away for a weekend and basically convinced yourself that you could power through something that was never going to work. The other (when we sold FT) you wrestled with for several months, and after the first 30 days it was just anxiety driven handwringing rather than really trying something on. Anyway, I point this out because the time period is probably really important, enough time to really sit with it but not so much that you’re perseverating.

    • Those are both very good examples of early failure in my way of processing things. I’d like to think I learned from both of them.

      1. The weekend thing: That was a personal decision, around getting divorced from my first wife. I remember that weekend extremely well even 26+ years later. I had zero capacity to think through / process what was going on. I created a complete fantasy narrative about my situation. I convinced myself of “a truth” that was complete bullshit. Part of my current view of using this for professional decisions vs. personal decisions came from that failure – and a number of other personal ones where I tried on something for a period of time to try to get to an answer. I’ve found that it simple doesn’t work for personal stuff.

      2. The FT sale: You nailed it. I was depressed, anxious, exhausted, and clueless about so many things. I’d never done a deal before so I didn’t have any perspective on what a good outcome meant and whether I could get a better outcome or whether that even mattered. And perseverate I did – I wanted to sell on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, I didn’t want to sell on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, and I rested on Sunday. I’m so thankful that you didn’t take a giant sword and behead me during that period of time – it must have been a total nightmare to deal with me.

  • Chris H

    Thanks Brad for sharing this. I’ve been reading your blog for about a year now and I’ve felt as though I should respond from times but I really felt compelled to post a comment today since I think many of us have felt this sense of “being lost” from times in anything in life. I feel much the same as you did 2003 currently for the company I work for but as you did maybe I just need to take a full deep dive in. BUT then again maybe it’s just as important to take some time to reflect. Anyways… thanks for sharing this and continuing to share your posts from whatever topics they might be.

    PS… loving Venture Deals right now on NovoEd

    • Glad this hit a nerve! And psyched you are enjoying Venture Deals.

  • Cathryn Heinlein Olchowy

    Inspiring advice. I have been known to give myself just 24 hours to make some pretty big decisions and although I have no regrets, I definitely give myself more time these days. Thanks for sharing!

  • Good post. I’ve found adding a time delay between decision and action to be a great way to dampen the effects of short term emotions on the decision process. It’s interesting that you take it a step further by role playing the effect of the decision.

    You’d probably like the Heath brothers’ book on improving the decision making process, Decisive.

    http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/15798078-decisive

    • Thx. I haven’t read the book but it’s in my infinite pile of books to read.

      • Patrick S.

        Great tip, Bryan. Thanks for the post, Brad – found it timely and helpful.

        Another recommendation is ‘The Decision Book: 50 Models for Strategic Thinking’. It’s a macro overview of many different frameworks to make big decisions. More importantly, it’s a super-fast read since each framework is only given a couple of pages; can finish in probably a single SFO-LAX flight with fog delay.
        https://www.amazon.com/dp/0393079619/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_tai_52jqxbW34ERG5

  • Michelle Tandler

    Brad – thank you for sharing this. It’s a great story, and a great message.

  • TamiMForman

    I was a week away from my RP sabbatical when Matt told me about spinning out the nonprofit. I briefly thought about canceling my break, but decided to go ahead. Best decision of my life. I had 6 weeks to consider the pros and cons, talk to my “kitchen cabinet” and, to your point, “try on” the decision. I was also able to really think about what I could contribute to RP marketing from a detached perspective since I was out of the day-to-day. It made my decision crystal clear and when I came back I was so ready to go. It was an accident, but a very happy one.

  • Matt Oguz

    At times of trauma, people often question their major commitments as the they feel depressed. This is often a wrong correlation so I’m glad you didn’t quit the firm which wasn’t the root cause of the collapse. But most major decisions require a commitment. You can’t try out whether or not to double down on 11 or to “test out” using pro-rata investment rights. Nonetheless, obtaining such trial rights are quite valuable and in some cases openly traded, so I’d ask for them by all means, but a smart counterpart will want you to pay a price for it.

  • Brian Hopewell

    A “clarification exercise” I’ve occasionally done in circs like Brad’s is to draft a short, pointed resignation letter and keep it on the screen for a week or so. It gets longer and shorter, more and less pointed with every reading and revision. After the try-on period feels done, a real-life decision has to be made about posting the letter. I’ve only sent one, but the others are collect

  • Joe Mayo

    Thanks for this – it’s interesting and might help on an issue that I’ve been sitting on for way too long.