Nine Numbers to Guide Your Decision Making

decision making guide

by Greg Van Kirk

If you are building something (anything) awesome, you are likely facing this fact: decisions need to be made. Often.

Humans make decisions every day: what to wear to work, which school to attend, whom to marry and whether to divorce. From the minute to the grandiose, decisions permeate our lives. Yet, decision-making as a process is rarely taught.

In our social entrepreneurship work, we have to make decisions every day, too. Over the years, we’ve developed a small cheat sheet to guide us.

Whether you are a social entrepreneur, a startup co-founder, a corporate strategist, or a builder of things and ideas, thinking about these nine numbers can help you boost your decision-making.


Faced with a tough decision, our tendency is to wait until we are really sure about it.

Working in a dynamic, uncertain and ambiguous environment means that really sure rarely happens.

Instead of waiting for really sure, get to 51% sure and commit to it 100%. You have to make a call and often, you have to do it RIGHT NOW. Waiting for that elusive certainty is paralyzing. Get to “sure enough,” make the call, and lead with the 100% conviction. Live with your decision for a while and pivot, if needed.


Leading alone can be lonely and immensely challenging.

Don’t. Find a partner. You’ll have someone to motivate you, coach you, inspire you, pat you on the back, challenge your assumptions, and carry a part of the load. And this doesn’t just apply to organizational leadership. Find your partner in every project. Assign partners for teams of teams. John and Paul. Steve and Steve. Bert and Ernie. Clara and Yoly. Two just works better. And it not only creates a better opportunity for success but also mitigates challenges if one person leaves. Google “The Power of Two” to dive deeper.

Related: 12 Lessons Learned from 12 Months of Entrepreneurship

Instead of waiting for really sure, get to 51% sure and commit to it 100%


When should you launch your social innovation, a project, or a major change you’ve been working on?

Do it when you think you are about 80% there. Whether you’re rapid prototyping, piloting, getting to your minimum viable product, or beta-testing, you need to know when to stop talking, quit designing and get out there to test what you’ve learned in the real world. Talking gets circular; surveys are insufficient and can be misleading.

If you think you’re only at 50%, for example, you’re not ready. Keep learning and designing. If you are waiting for 100%, you’ll never get out there and learn what you need to know.

Once you feel you are at 80%, it’s time to launch. You may learn that you are actually only at 40%, 60% or even 90%. That’s great — you can go back to the drawing board and iterate.


Build a 360-degree model.

This is a model that doesn’t ask for feedback as a “nice to have,” but rather depends on it for success. If you have to do monitoring and evaluation as an entirely separate activity, rethink your model. In business, it’s called customer experience and great businesses build it into their models. It’s about relationships, not transactions. If innovation requires iteration, then feedback and learning must be integrated.


Stop talking.

If you’re facilitating a workshop or a training session, structure it so it’s experiential and you are only talking 10% of the time. This approach fosters self-learning, discovery, critical thinking and ownership.

Leading a meeting? Talk 10% of the time. Ask questions and give everyone else a voice. That’s where great ideas come from. That’s where a strong team is formed. Want to learn from a community member? Ask some questions as prompts and listen actively. Talk 10% and listen 90%.

It’s human nature: we feel successful when we talk and we feel that when we’re successful we should talk. But success means going against your intuition. Leading change requires listening.

Talk 10% of the time and listen 90%. Leading change requires listening.


This is the GDP growth of Guatemala in 2017.

Interesting… but this number means nothing to us. It has zero relevance in our work. Success means diving into the micro, not being preoccupied with the macro. People don’t live in the GDP. Zoom out for sure, but don’t get caught up in it. Think big, start small and leave GDP and the like for dinner conversations.


What worked yesterday may not work today.

We all learn from the past but let’s look at every day as Day Zero. “If I were going to do this today, how would I do it?” Sunk costs are sunk. Yesterday’s great innovation may be a commodity today. It may not work tomorrow. This practice is about a mindset. Own the mission, don’t own the activities.


You’re in a community asking questions and learning. You’re tired.

Maybe you don’t smell very good. Maybe you have a million other things to still accomplish today. Stay for five more minutes. Listen for five minutes more. Meet five more people.

This is when the magic happens.

Stay for five more minutes. This is where magic happens.


Building something for everyone will likely mean it serves no one.

Try to help one person. One community. One family. One entrepreneur. Then another and another. Find one positive deviant. Then another. And another. Then find the patterns, enhance your model and scale.

This ‘nine numbers’ cheat sheet is not a revolutionary theory, but putting it in action is not as simple as it looks.

We try our best. Over the years, following it has helped us overcome decision-making paralysis and spring into action.

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