Rational vs. Emotional Decision Making

I once had a new client who was an engineer whom suddenly had to take over the management of a sizeable hog farm in a very tough financial position after his dad died of what was suspected to be a suicide.  Obviously, he had a lot going on in his head and he called me in to help him 24 hours after the funeral.  I sat down with him and had a bunch of chicken scratches of ink on a piece of paper.  I asked him what was going on. He used his training as an engineer, to sit down and solving his problems. 

  1. He used a process called the mind mapping process whereby he got a blank piece of paper.  In the center of the paper, he wrote down what the problem or idea was. 

  2. He then expanded the idea with sub-ideas or sub-problems until it looked like branches in the tree. 

  3. He then ranked his problems. 

  4. For each problem, he started framing specific questions.  For instance, one question was how am I going to pay creditors $20,000 when I only have $10,000 in liquid cash available by that day? 

  5. He didn’t have the answer at the time, but because he wrote it down by the end of the week he did.  He carried around these questions in his pocket.  Every time he had an answer to the question, he wrote it down.   By the end of the week, he had the answer to most of these questions figured out.  

What this guy did this might seem nerdy and it is.  But what it did was get his thoughts down on paper and off his chest.  Instead of lying awake at night worrying, he was able to sleep like a baby because he had that cue card in his shirt pocket.  He didn’t immediately have every problem solved, but by knowing what he didn’t know; he had a list of problems to solve while he did his day to day manual labor. 

He then took a recipe card and one side he put down the actions he had to do that month on a list.  On the flip side of this recipe card, he wrote any outstanding questions that he hadn’t figured out yet.  When he got out of bed in the morning, he looked at his action list and it helped him keep focused on getting the critical things done.  He stroked one after another off the list and it felt, like he was making progress.  He then flipped over the card and looked at the questions of things he didn’t know but needed to figure out.  Within five minutes of waking up in the morning, he was thinking about those 4 problems that he simply didn’t have an answer to.  Over the course of the week, when he was showering and once when he was moving pigs, he got Eureka moments where he figured out an answer to one of the questions.  By the end of the week, that cue card was stained because he had kept it in his shirt pocket; but had an answer under each question in pencil.  He squeaked by a tough situation and is still farming to this day.

Now you might think that sitting down and writing it down is silly.  Only an academic would suggest that.  But the fact is that he was able to deal with his problems in a rational, systematic manner despite pretty overwhelming circumstances.  Had he not written his ideas onto paper like a nerd, his mind would be all over the place and he would get nowhere quick!  He was a trained MBA executive in an engineering company and because of this background he was able to overcome a set of tough circumstances most would cave under.  His dad got overwhelmed by the farm’s debt crisis and killed himself, but this engineer looked at it rationally instead of emotionally and within a week was able to solve a tough problem. 

When you are hit by a tough farm crisis, the issues aren’t financial.  It’s controlling your mindset and dealing with the problems proactively that is the challenge.  Having a DISCIPLINED method to organize your thoughts and keep “focused on what matters” is what will dictate success in the long run.