Our son, Clay, once requested a shelving unit for his room. He didn’t want anything extravagant, just a few shelves for books and assorted items.
I quickly considered my options. We could go to a furniture store that day and pick up an item, search our house to see what we could repurpose, ask a friend or family member if they had extra shelves lying around, or build something custom from scratch.
I latched onto the build-it-from-scratch option as I like to make things, and this could be something special that I could do for him. It turned out to be a poor decision. Over the next several weekends, I wore a groove in the pavement between our house and the hardware store to get just “one more thing” to finish the project.
Ultimately, I spent far more time and money making the shelves than I could have imagined.
Of course, part of me can rationalize my decision. My son wanted a bookshelf, and I sprang into action and built him a custom set. This would be a plausible argument if I created the makings of a future family heirloom that would be passed down from generation to generation. Or, if Clay and I had bonded over the shelf-building process, but neither is true. The final product wasn’t good. It was unattractive, barely functional, and lasted less than a year. Clay had legitimate commitments to his job and school that didn’t allow him to spend countless hours watching me fume over this project in the garage.
In the end, it would have made far more sense to run up to the store with Clay, buy a set of shelves, and catch a movie together the day. That would have been a far better option to pursue. My mistake didn’t stem from a lack of desire to solve the problem but a lack of investment to build out the details of what each option would take to complete. True, I figured it out hours into the building effort, but then it was too late. I’d invested so much into the solution I was hell-bent on seeing it through.
I should have spent time answering four questions about each option:
- How many people will it take?
- What are the key actions?
- How much time will it take?
- What will be the cost?
Time spent building out the details of the possible solutions will reap huge rewards and allow you to pick among solutions that will hit the mark. The ready-fire-aim approach is a sure way to miss the target.
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Patrick Leddin, PhD is a speaker, global leadership consultant, and The Wall Street Journal bestselling author of The Five-Week Leadership Challenge. Patrick is an Associate Professor at Vanderbilt University with a thriving leadership blog and podcast, and 25-years of leadership experience. He offers an unparalleled mix of academic rigor and real-world experience.