5 Reasons to Develop Decisiveness by Using the 70% Rule

I am naturally a perfectionist.  If my parents read this, they may disagree.  They will remember me leaving potential on the table.  I was the poster child for procrastination.  The truth is perfectionism is the mother of procrastination.


Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.comjoste_dj

I remember one semester of college at Murray State University.  I decided that I would not procrastinate any longer.  I purposed to work ahead in all my classes — finish assignments early.  I remember going to the library to work on a paper that was due weeks in the future.  I found that I could not focus my thoughts.  The possibilities of what direction I could go and how perfect the paper could be were overwhelming.  I needed the pressure of the last minute to focus my thoughts and force me to action.  I am the classic Ready, Aim, Aim, Aim, Aim, Aim…………….Fire!

My father is not this way.  While he gathers information, he is naturally decisive and instinctive.  I would characterize him as Fire, Ready, Aim.  If you can’t tell, we work very well together.

In business and life, there is a great tension between impulsiveness (foolishness) and perfectionism (procrastination).  Leaders are decisive.  In fact, decisiveness is one of the 14 Leadership Traits of the Marine Corps that I wrote about recently — read more here.  Additionally, decisive leaders reject perfectionism.  They understand that it is an elusive fallacy.  Your business should have a goal of success, growth, and excellence — not perfection.  There is a difference.

So how does a leader manage this tension between impulsiveness and perfectionism?  The Marine Corps taught me the 70% Rule.  It says that you take action on any decision when you have 70% confidence in the success of the decision.  That statement just made some of you uncomfortable.  Here are 5 reasons you should consider implementing this rule in your business.

  1. Reality – Decisions are made in time.  Sometimes it must be made very quickly.  You also have competition.  They are also trying to succeed.  They are also trying to beat you.  Being decisive while not impulsive can be learned.  Rejecting perfectionism frees you up to execute with speed.
  2. Speed – Speed is better than perfection.  A good solution executed quickly will have a higher probability of success than a great solution executed too late.  Speed puts you on the offensive.  It allows you to set the pace of innovation and service.  This also means that it puts your competition on the defensive forcing them to react.  He who sets the pace gains the advantage.
  3. Growth – Speaking of mistakes, you will make them too.  Understand that you will and prepare.  Don’t waste your mistakes — learn from them.  The key to learning from your mistakes is debriefing after decisions are made.  What went wrong?  Why did we fail?  Why did we succeed?  What could we have done better?  How could I have done that presentation better?  If you do not pause and reflect, you will waste the benefits of your mistakes.  You will not grow as a leader.  You will not develop better decision-making skills.  You will repeat the mistakes.
  4. Success – Wayne Gretzky said that, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”  This is obvious but so important.  Being decisive with 70% confidence will lead to more success than hesitating due to lack of confidence or information.  As you grow from experience and learning from your mistakes, your success rate will improve.  Over time, this growth can allow you to reach your potential.  Perfectionist straddled by procrastination never reach their potential — never.
  5. Prevents Impulsiveness – Colin Powell is a proponent of the 70% Rule.  He also stated that 40% confidence requires more information gathering and planning.  Going with your gut is often a bad idea.  The 70% Rule acts as a guard-rail for the impulsive who Fire before they make Ready and Aim.

I invite you to share your thoughts below.  Are you a perfectionist?  How would the 70% Rule change how you do business?

There was an issue loading your timed LeadBox™. Please check plugin settings.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Bo,
    A variation on your 70% rule of decision confidence is mine of the 90% solution (got mine from the Navy). You can generally get a 90% solution to your problem in 90% of the time you have. But getting to 100% requires 150% of that time. Some situations will require that 150% but the remaining 95% of situations don’t. Take the 90% solution 95% of the time and get stuff done.
    Good post!

    • Bo Barron, CCIM

      Caleb – thanks for your comment, and for your service. That is a bunch of numbers, and this jarhead needs to keep it simple!

      • Bill Mather

        Bo: Thank you for this article and reminder. Caleb’s comments/concept falls right in line and the employment of the KISS principal is appropriate. A weakness of mine is over analyzing and reworking a project to the point that the work is nearly obsolete at deployment. This is a great reminder that “get ‘r done” is superior to “get ‘r perfect.” Semper Fi, Bill

        • Bo Barron, CCIM

          Bill – I love how you framed this idea: “get it done is better than get it perfect.” And Keeping It Simple Stupid (KiSS) always leads to better productivity in this business. Thanks for your comments!

  • David R

    Thanks! This simplifies things for me a lot. I over analyze to a fault and miss out on opportunities because they aren’t perfect.

    Great rule of thumb for guys like me!