The Derisive Moment :: My overly complicated journey to simplicity.

The Derisive Moment

The Best Decision Is One That Can Be Changed Easily

October 20th, 2007

The other day, my wife and I were talking about personality types. She confessed that she had never taken a Myers Briggs test. Back when I worked at GE, these tests were all the rage, and my own type flip flopped back and forth between the two INT? categories, so I was curious not only where my wife fell, but where I did as well. The Google’s first result looked like a good place to start.

Most of these questions hardly require any thought to answer. There’s not supposed to be a right or wrong answer, but based on your personality, your answers pin you into a type. I blazed along with my yeses and noes until I hit #12:

“You believe the best decision is one that can be easily changed.”

What a question. No “maybe”, no “it depends…”. Just Yes, or No.

My gut instinct immediately leaned toward “yes”, but I didn’t feel sure. There wasn’t the feeling of absolute certainty I had when answering, say, #4: “You feel involved when watching TV soaps”. This question was deeper than that.

Better is the enemy of good

So what caused the uneasiness with my choice? It plagued me for days. I struggled to come up with a devil’s advocate position for why “no” might be the proper choice. “Indecision is frowned upon by society.” “We put an intrinsic value on making decisions.” They seemed so subjective, and they all paled in comparison to the logic behind my “yes”–An easily changeable decision is flexible. Plus, an easily changeable decision doesn’t have to be changed. It’s the best of both worlds!

I asked Tanya what her answer was: it was “No”. I couldn’t wait to hear the logic behind this. It turns out she interpreted the question completely differently than I had–in fact, 80% of the other people I ended up asking saw it this alternate way.

She interprets an “easily changeable decision” as suggesting the decision has a temporary nature, and therefore implies some level of slipshoddery or jury rigging. A more permanent solution is, therefore, a better solution. “Easily changed” is a negative attribute, not something to aspire toward.

I, on the other hand, see “easily changeable” as implying flexibility and strategy. Maybe it’s the engineer in me finding the value in easily-changed decisions, but my mind immediately lunged down the techy path: In software architecture, there is great value in designing a system in a modular way so components can be completely redesigned later without affecting the overall system. Why lock yourself into a decision (or solution, or design) when there is the option to keep it flexible?

Types of questions

Perhaps my initial discomfort with “yes” is due to decisions of a completely different nature. All of the truly big decisions in my life just wouldn’t be the same if they were easily changeable. Marrying my wife, having a child–all things that lose something if there is an “easy way out”. In a way, the enduring nature of these decisions adds quality and value to them. It’s the reason people get married (permanent) instead of dating forever (temporary/easily changed). That isn’t to say that a person actually thinks this way when making decisions, but that viewed retroactively through easily-changeable-decision tinted glasses, one could interpret it that way.

Still, I’d argue that this is different from Tanya’s interpretation (and that of the majority, at least from my impromptu study). I’m only applying it to big “life” decisions, and the permanentness forms a sort of meta-synergy with these decisions. It adds to the permanent decision, as opposed to taking away from the temporary one.

A matter of interpretation

Perhaps the question is not so much designed to collect your answer, but to discover your interpretation of the question. Interpreted as I do, the answer is obviously “yes”. Interpreted the other way, I could understand a “no”. Or, maybe to determine your off-the-cuff scope for the word “decision”: Large, life changing choices vs engineering options vs tonight’s dinner.

I decided to leave my answer as “yes” and move on down the list of questions. After all, I could easily change it later.