The Embarrassment Test

“Use your gut to make big decisions; use data to drive tactical changes” - Rich Barton

In startups, it is easy to find a dissenting opinion. Turns out if you are doing anything that is half-way interesting in your company, there will be a myriad of opinions, pontifications and explanations of a better, different or other course of action. And most times, you are offered these opinions all for free (except if those ‘opinions’ come from those investors who actually gave you money for the right to offer their opinion).

As an entrepreneur, it’s a tough thing to sit there and wonder if your gut is right. In particular in an industry with so much grey in the normally straightforward concepts of right and wrong, you are sorta forced to use your gut, interspersed with some data and feedback, to make a surprisingly large number of decisions.

So just how do you look yourself in the mirror in good faith and think, “yup, that’s the right decision” when so much is based on grey guts… whatever that means?

I like to use the Embarrassment Test. When you are making a decision that is a toughie or just could go either way, I think the best course of action is to gather up all the facts and rationales for your decision, and imagine a conversation with someone you trust – it could be your co-founder, an investor, your best friend or even your spouse (I sometimes wonder if your spouse is actually the perfect person because they have little to gain by grin-f#cking you). In that imaginary conversation, dump that pile of information onto your confidant and then ask yourself the following question:

“Would I be embarrassed to offer them this rationale for my decision?”

Turns out, that emotion, embarrassment, is a good proxy for whether you’ve done enough to convince yourself to trust your gut. If you think to yourself, ‘boy, I should really dig up some more research,’ or ‘this is worth doing some more customer interviews,’ or ‘we should figure out what our key competitor is doing first,’ then you might recognize that your gut needs a bit more to really satisfy it.

On the flip side, if you have that mock-conversation (or even a real conversation if you are so bold) and feel like you are comfortable with the conversation, then don’t bother over-thinking things and move on.

This all presupposes that your “person” is someone you don’t want to come back to post-decision with your tail between your legs or you aren’t a person who has pure blind confidence… in those cases, you’re on your own. Otherwise, the sentiment of embarrassment is a good one to probe in your decision-making process.

Turns out you still might be wrong (a lot), but being wrong is different than being stupid. Or so I’ve experienced…

 
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