Falling in love: A step in making decisions

Business strategist Roger Martin urges leaders to engage their hearts in strategic decision-making, to notice every detail, how the parts work together and how employees feel about each option.

The symptoms of being lovestruck include a loss of a sense of time, a focus on strengths and a blindness to weakness. When would such a giddy, irrational state be desirable as a leader?

When stress is high and key decisions must be made, an objective, clear-headed vision would seem to be in order. The most natural move is to quickly decide between available options, even as the choices seem less than ideal. Stress tends to create a feeling of urgency.

Yet business strategist Roger Martin urges leaders to take time to “fall in love” with every alternative before making a strategic choice.

The advice to slow the process seems wise. Yet why frame the analysis of each position as “falling in love”? It makes more sense to urge leaders to objectively weigh each alternative’s opportunities and challenges. Instead Martin urges us to engage our hearts in the process.

When in love, one pays very close attention. Everything the person wears, eats, doodles or discards is carefully observed. When asked to fall in love with a choice, the call is to notice every detail, every element. Such attention requires understanding of how all the various pieces work together. It requires a total commitment and connection to those who advocate for the option. It builds relationships and promotes understanding.

In the process one learns much more than what can be gained in an objective analysis, which may miss (among other things) how people feel about an alternative. Failure to take into account a lack of passion among the staff may mean that there is not enough energy to implement the decision. Perhaps Martin wants us to acknowledge that few decisions are completely rational.

Ph.D. students are urged to choose a dissertation topic that captures the student’s imagination. Such loving devotion is required to research and write about every detail of a narrowly described topic. Falling in love with the topic at the beginning creates conditions that give energy through the hard times. Finishing a dissertation requires the endurance of a marathoner.

Roger Martin came to integrative thinking by studying the most successful business leaders in the 2000s. Through an in-depth assessment of how these leaders functioned, he saw that they held together options that others insisted be pulled apart. With “falling in love” and a system of making choices like doubling-down, Martin identifies some of the key activities in a way that we can learn from the success of others.

Who would have thought that what we learned as love-sick teenagers could help in making wise decisions?