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The “80% Rule”: Making Good Decisions Easier and Faster

Written by Mark Abbott on October 21, 2014

Implementers EOS

80_percentMore often than not, we have to make decisions with less-than-perfect information or insight. That’s just life, especially as a leader. The biggest common denominator of great leaders and great leadership teams is the ability to make good decisions with less-than-perfect information.

But how do we make a decision when there are “gaps” in our information?

One of my favorite decision-making guidelines is the 80% Rule. The essence of the rule is that 80% solutions are usually good enough – especially in business, since we typically make dozens of material decisions every week as we deal with the myriad of issues afflicting every company.

Shooting for “good enough” might seem counter-intuitive or even lazy since, for many of us, the idea that it is unacceptable to aim for anything less than perfection has been deeply embedded in the psyche. We’ve been taught that “good enough” isn’t good enough.

But there are two things wrong with striving for perfection:

  1. It’s a fool’s game. When it comes to the world of people and business, perfection doesn’t exist, and chasing it is almost always a huge waste of time and resources.
  2. Setting a standard of perfection can be crippling. If we cannot give ourselves, our colleagues, and employees permission not to be perfect, we can become too afraid of failure to do Then how will we ever make any decisions, get things done, or learn anything?

The 80% rule works because 80% is close enough to 100% to convey the idea of striving for excellence without requiring absolute perfection.

Further, if you have the right kind of people in your organization, they will have an innate desire to exceed your 80% expectations and strive for perfection anyway, but it’s only your permission to miss the bulls-eye that gives them the freedom they need to aim for it.

The 80% Rule doesn’t just apply to decision making. It also applies to setting up the facts we use to make decisions. Can you imagine how many hours in the history of business have been wasted debating and worrying about the exception to a rule, trying to come up with a solution to a problem that will work 100% of the time? It’s usually impossible to devise a solution to a problem that will work in all cases without exception.

One of the beauties of the 80% Rule is that it respects and acknowledges the exceptions. In fact, it enhances our ability to make the larger point. For instance, 80% of the time, I think you will find that the 80% Rule works extraordinarily well! Sure, there are exceptions to the rule, but given the probabilities, doesn’t it make sense to at least consider the 80% Rule?

Until the next time, may you make good decisions swiftly, and build with confidence and passion.

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