Start from Who, not What

When making big decisions, start from Who Do You Want to Be in making this decision rather than What Is the Right Option.

For example, a friend punched me in the stomach last week with a question: "Why don't you leave Aula and become CEO of your own company? Aren’t you leaving money on the table?"

The thought hadn't crossed my mind. I love where I work. But startups are full of ups and downs, and he hit me on a Bad Day. Besides, his question stroke my ego. So I entertained the idea.

A full minute went by. My eyes darted the room as my mind raced to What Is The Right Option questions like: What would that look like? What are the chances I could pull that off? How much confidence do I have in my current company? What would be the pros and cons?

Starting from What Is The Right Option left me in paralysis by analysis: racy mind, half-baked thoughts, noise. The probabilities of success are unknown. They change over time. And are mostly out of your control. So much for Microeconomics 101.


Another friend suggested I start from: Who Do I Want To Be in making this decision? Not in the go-on-a-meditation-retreat-and-find-your-values way. Just what comes to mind. Bold? Cautious? Curious? Honest? Kind?

My ego had started to fantasise about being CEO. But on reflection, I wanted to be transparent and loyal to my partnership with Anders, Aula's CEO, in making this decision. More so than I wanted to be daring and exploratory.

I also wanted to stand up for myself to make sure I didn’t leave ‘money on the table’. But I would explore those considerations with Anders.

Answering the Who also pointed to the How I would make this decision: Not alone, with Anders.

Clarifying the Who left me with shoulders down, chest forward. Feeling anchored. As with all other ambitious visions, Aula's probability of success will go up and down. At some point, it may be the right thing to go build my own thing. But not now.

What I learnt is that I can always approach decisions on three levels:

  • What are my options, and what are the likely outcomes from each?
  • How will I go about making this decision?
  • Who will I be in making this decision?

People default to starting with What. And often get paralysed. Instead, start from Who. Then use that answer to move up the decision hierarchy.

Are you facing a big decision that can be opened up by starting from the Who?