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Binary Thinking vs Directional Thinking

binary directional thinking

Let me introduce you to two ways of thinking:

1. Binary thinking – right/wrong, yes/no, good/bad, start/finish.

2. Directional thinking – moving forward, a step closer, lighter grey/darker grey, an experiment, an opportunity to learn, smart-ish, safer, right-ish, wrong-ish, finished-ish.

Binary thinking feels safe. It creates a world where things are black or white. They are happening or not happening. Something is good or it’s bad. A person performs well or isn’t performing. A deal is in writing or it’s not a deal.

In the binary world there are start dates and finish dates. Things happen sequentially in a linear, orderly fashion.

The largest and most powerful part of your brain loves the idea that this is how the world works. It craves the clarity of a world that unfolds in a straight line. It’s happy if there’s a plan and it takes comfort that if we stick to it, everything will be ok.

Sadly this isn’t how the world works and it’s not how entrepreneurial success happens either. Success is always in a mess, it unfolds from a world of grey decisions that are ‘directionally correct’.

Success is a network effect from dozens of simultaneous side projects coming together over time. The decisions are never easy at the level of high performance – they involve trade-offs and risks.

The way success looks from a distance is as if it was a plan that came to fruition. The way it is behind the scenes is a mess that was moving in vaguely the right direction most of the time.

When you look closely at successful people, few of their decisions were black and white and obviously safe. Safe decisions don’t provide a payoff. Safe and clear decisions are actually dangerous for a person who’s seeking the rewards of entrepreneurship. If the decisions don’t feel risky and incomplete then the opportunity is too obvious and therefore too contested.

Directional thinking is suitable in the domain of uncertainty. It’s the thinking required to keep the many moving parts of a business moving ‘roughly’ towards a desirable outcome – more often than not.

Directional thinking doesn’t resolve any tension. It doesn’t feel safe or complete. Therefore it requires emotional intelligence.

In a fast changing world, anyone who thinks they have clear cut answers about the future is shutting down their ability to see what’s actually happening and respond accordingly. Likewise, anyone who hesitates while they look for a well defined path will get left behind.

In a dark room we want to know how to flick the lights back on but when it comes to the world of entrepreneurship there is no light switch, you have to get used to feeling around in the dark for years at a time.

As entrepreneurs we must stop looking for answers. Stop the quest for a beggining or an end. Let go of clear boundaries. Make your guidelines broad at best. There are no right answers – only directionally correct answers.

The only way forward in this transformational time is to make decisions that are mostly right, sort-of right, on-balance right based on all the incomplete information we have access to.

Be ok with grey. The best decisions are directionally correct.

  • Very well put Daniel!

    You can’t just take the red pill one day and be done with it. Everything is a process where you have to show up each day and going in the direction you want to take yourself 🙂

  • Jason Francois

    cleared up the mind for me here really great ending line really caught the jizzt of that if you know what im saying. peace

  • Raghava Prayaga

    Thank you this is amazing. This is the current state in the program I’m working on.