A decision timing framework

How we time decisions and how we act plays a big role in our personal and professional lives. Make decisions when you have to make them, defer them when it's valuable to defer them but know what you're waiting for.

A decision timing framework
Photo by Alexander Schimmeck / Unsplash

I've never been much of a procrastinator. We tend to put off the things we're not too excited about, but these things don't get any more fun the longer you put them off. In fact, all the pent up anxiety procrastination brings just makes things worse.

How we time decisions and how we act goes beyond the mundane in life chores, and plays a big role in our professional lives. This is true for dealing with work flows and also for making big strategic decisions that impact entire businesses.

Here's my rule of thumb: Make decisions when you have to make them, defer them when it's valuable to defer them.

  1. If you have all information and there's nothing to gain by waiting, act
  2. When you can gain option value in waiting, defer but know what you're waiting for

An example from the mundane. I want to plan my next visit to our Milan office (here's how cool it is to work there), but maybe I'm not all that excited to go through the motions of booking the trip. At first it's just an idea. I know I need to get there and I want to spend more time with that team, but I first have to coordinate dates, sequence, and some other logistics. I mentally bookmark the trip.

After talking to a few people I now have the best dates, I know I can optimize my time by tagging it onto another trip just beforehand, and I even have an open weekend to plan an excursion to Tuscany! What am I waiting for? There are plenty of times in my life where I might have updated my mental bookmark and kept it at just that. Nowadays I'm fairly obsessive about taking actions as soon as I have all the relevant info. Mission complete: trip booked!  

An example from the strategic. Back in 2017 when we launched Horizen, one of the first things we wanted to do was decentralize governance by building an on-chain voting system (a DAO). The big value proposition back then was that our blockchain would be a censorship-resistant platform on which a suite of apps, like private money, private messengers, decentralized VPNs, etc. could be built. If there are people with the keys to the kingdom, you have a point of vulnerability on that whole censorship resistance thing. Coding decision-making into the distributed software, itself, guarantees that the system doesn't rely on the integrity of people (or so goes the logic!).

At the time we had the choice to invest everything into making this goal a reality with our current stack, or defer it to build out better foundational technologies and a more knowledgeable team that could deliver something much more substantial. It was a tough tradeoff, it was a time in the market when blockchain communities demanded constant action (headlines ruled!). Would it be better to dive in immediately with limited tech, an immature team, and a whole bunch of gaps in knowledge, or focus on incrementally delivering key pieces to the ecosystem while building out core competencies? For years the market penalized us for investing in the long term.

Back to our starting heuristic. First of all, we knew there was a lot we didn't know. Ethereum's The DAO had recently been wiped out immediately after launch, we knew that blockchains were starting to hit real scalability issues, and there's that whole incomplete contracting thing in economics we ought to consider before permanently binding law into code.

Secondly, we knew that by taking the time to focus on team building we could take advantage of superior technologies, like Zendoo's sidechain protocol that we ended up inventing and building. Because back in 2017 we lacked the right information and we had the opportunity to create substantial value that didn't exist at the time, it made a ton of sense to defer the project.

A fully decentralized decision-making process still eludes us, but today the project is 20x more valuable (in market capitalization) and has enormous potential to do so much more as a programmable blockchain platform than simply a cryptocurrency with an inferior voting system.

The last piece of the puzzle is to know what you're waiting for when you consciously defer action. Without setting clear and tangible targets for when you'd act you risk waiting for a future that never comes. In the DAO example, we chose to wait for sidechains as programmable blockchains that could support the complex logic needed for the voting system at scale. Now that we're delivering Zendoo at the end of October, the real fun is about to begin.


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