Why Yogi Berra's Cryptic Advice on Choices Makes Sense to Entrepreneurs
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“When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” – Yogi Berra
With the passing of baseball legend and “accidental philosopher,” Yogi Berra, the news feeds are full of what came to be known as “Yogi-isms.” Many of these foolish-on-the-surface but wise-underneath truisms have even passed into the realm of colloquialisms. But whatever “ism” we assign to it, the one about the fork in the road has been one of my favorite reminders to myself.
The number of decisions the average adult makes in a day has been estimated at 35,000. Based on my observations and experience in working with business owners for more than 20 years I’d say the average entrepreneur makes at least three times that number.
What I just did there, making a quick calculation based on a personal rule of thumb, is an example of something psychologists call a heuristic; a logical short cut to making decisions quickly and efficiently based on experience and common rule-of-thumb.
Heuristics, these lightening-swift short cut calculations we work in our minds with very little mental energy expended, keep us from getting bogged down in relatively risk-free decision making. But they can also lead to miscalculations.
So what should we do when we come to that fork in the road? Apply our rule-of-thumb-based-on-experience heuristic short cut to pick a direction and keep on truckin’? Pause, examine the map and our choices before taking one more step? Or wallow in indecision, asking directions from everyone we meet and wringing our hands because there isn’t enough data to make a fail-safe choice?
I find that decision making in business really is a lot like taking a road trip. Which means I learned a lot about entrepreneurship from my dad. Even though he was a professional over-the-road driver, Dad’s idea of a vacation was to load up the camper and drive halfway across the country just for fun. But he always had a destination in mind, and he was not a fan of detours. So my mom and I learned a lot about navigation.
Signs don’t always tell the full story.
As a tiny-town girl from southeast Kansas who was just learning to read road signs I thought if a sign said that the road went to Des Moines you shouldn’t take the road unless Des Moines was your intended destination. So I was vocally unhappy when we took the exit for Des Moines because that was not where I’d been told we were going. Of course my father, with his superior experience and map reading ability, knew exactly what he was doing.
The same is true in your business. You’ll have well-meaning backseat drivers who point to signs and share their concerns that the fork you just took is leading you off-course. Certainly, if the concerns are coming from someone with a lot of miles under their belt you might want to pull over and check your facts. But heuristics (or what we often think are instincts) are a lot more dependable than we usually give ourselves credit for. Trust yourself.
Related: Trust Your Own Focus Group of One
Are you sure that’s a fork in the road?
Another thing I had to get used to when it came to highway navigation was that a split in the lanes didn’t mean the road we were on was now a new road. Sometimes that “fork” was just a different path splitting off while we continued on our original course.
Often in business the true choice is to stay on track or take a different direction, but we mistake that for a mandatory detour. Entrepreneurs are easy prey for rabbit holes, bright shiny objects and mysterious possibilities. Even when our mental short cut thinking is urging us to stick to our plan we’re curious about the what ifs and haunted by the might-have-beens. Don’t let the fear of missing out take time and fuel away from reaching your goals.
Are there really only those two choices?
Sometimes we come to a fork in the road and we don’t want to take either one of them. Like the time we were traveling to Happy, Texas. The road my dad wanted to take was closed and the detour was going to add hours to our trip. We backtracked to a roadside truck stop, Dad went and pow-wowed with a couple of truckers who knew the back roads, and when he returned to the car he had a new plan.
I hear a lot of entrepreneurs use phrases like, “I had to do either this or that, I didn’t have any other choice.” But it’s seldom that our choices in business are so binary. This is the time to abandon heuristics, which can make it difficult to see alternatives or come up with creative solutions. Take a break, get new input, brainstorm the possibilities and create a third, or even fourth option for moving forward.
There is no one right way to “take the fork.” Relying on heuristics for the low-risk decisions leaves you more bandwidth for researching and contemplating the more significant crossroads. But ultimately, it’s all about your destination. Which, of course, brings us to a final Yogi-ism:
“You have to be very careful if you don’t know where you are going, because you might not get there.” – Yogi Berra