I heard a great phrase the other day: “he’s a 99% committer.” It was in the context of trying to get something to closure where I felt like someone had committed but it was ambiguous. The person ultimately committed and all was good, but there was some question about outcome for a few days. To be clear, I separate this from a process issue – where the person is on board personally but going through an internal process with a partnership, an investment committee, or a decision making group. Rather, I’m focusing on the person who is able to make a unilateral decision, gets 99% of the way there, and then leaves it a little open.
I pride myself on making quick and definitive decisions. However, when I reflected on this phrase, I realize that I’ve played out the 99% committer role a few times in the past year. In each case, I made things more difficult for everyone, including myself, but not simply taking the extra time and energy up front to get to 100%. In one case that I can think of I let things drag on at the 99% point for several months; in another it was only a few weeks. In both cases, I let plenty of extra anxiety build up on my end as I wasted time churning on the 99% decision rather than figuring out what I had to do to get to 100%, running things to ground, and being done one way or the other.
Now, I’m not criticizing the 99% committer – it’s a very effective style for some people as it generates a lot of control and option value in situations. Specifically, from a control perspective, by not fully committing the 99% committer gets to keep playing out things on the edges, poking, prodding, and getting more information. As long as the other party doesn’t disengage, this is effective, although it definitely runs the risk of creating real fatigue on both parties. Furthermore, there is a lot of option value associated with being a 99% committer. You are almost there, but you stall, so the other party feels compelled to give you more information and hold the door open as long as they can.
But this isn’t me. And when I reflect on the few cases where I’ve played the role of a 99% committer, I’m not unhappy with the outcome, but I’m annoyed with my own behavior. By not being a 99% committer, I’m always able to make a decision, deal with the consequences (good or bad), and move on. As a result, the velocity of what I get done is extremely high and I have very little emotional decision backlog stored up.
It’s a great phrase. I expect I’ll use it plenty in the future.