Nikki Sixx sucked at music. According to one documentary, Sixx, before his Motley Crue days, shoplifted a guitar so he could join another band as their bass player. When he showed up at practice with the stolen guitar, the guys in that band pointed out that what he'd stolen was obviously not a bass guitar, which meant Sixx was obviously clueless.
When he finally got down to learning the bass, he wasn’t great at it. People who knew him back then might say there was little if any indication that Sixx had the talent to make it as a musician, much less a rock star.
But there was also little if any indication that Nikki Sixx gave a crap. He knew he wanted to start an epic band like no one had ever seen. And he did, beyond his expectations. According to lead singer Vince Neil, Motley Crue set out to be the biggest band in Hollywood. Just Hollywood. Whatever your tastes in music, and whatever you think of the guys in Motley Crue, you have to admit they went way further than that.
Maybe Nikki Sixx had a unique force of will. Maybe he pushed through his weaknesses, worked hard, and made his dreams come true. Probably. But I'm going to suggest that something else could have also been going on.
Rather than thinking, "Should I start this band, or shouldn't I?" Sixx was thinking, "What would have to happen for this dream to become real?" In other words, Sixx most likely avoided framing his decision with a binary question and opted for asking a more complex one.
In asking it, he had to answer it. And in answering it, he realized that to make the band work, he'd have to surround himself with people who didn't suck at music. He also figured that his band would have to do what no other band was doing at the time - which was to combine a glam look with a loud sound and pyrotechnics. And he surmised that he had to give his audience what they wanted, which wasn't perfect musical technique, but a party.
Then he went out and did those things. Because he knew he could. If he did his research, and knew he couldn't, Motley Crue would probably not be around.
In business, we often frame decisions in terms of "should we or shouldn't we?" Maybe a strategy isn't coming together, and we're deciding whether to drop it. Maybe we designed a product that isn't quite selling, and we're not sure whether to keep offering it. Maybe we think a particular marketing campaign will work, but we're not sure. We ask if we should keep going or give up. And then we spin wheels or get stuck struggling with the answer.
Rather than frame questions in terms of yes/no, try the Sixx approach and ask How might we? When should we? Under what conditions would this be successful? Then set out to answer these questions. These types questions are more complex, but answering them makes decision-making so much easier. They force our focus away from the pressures of making the right choice and onto gathering the information necessary to inform that choice. Then, once we have the right information, we are better able to evaluate feasibility and the likelihood of success, which is really what we need to make the right decision.
Entrepreneurs face these sorts of situations. Having a business idea is one thing; knowing whether to kill it rather than put your sweat into it is a tough choice. Asking "should I or shouldn't I" won't get you as far as "under what conditions could I?" Suddenly you're analyzing a rich problem. What do you need to know about product-market fit to make sure you're selling something people want to buy? What kind of people do you need behind you, on your team, to make this dream a reality? Is the timing right? Is the competition fierce? Is there a niche you can claim? And so on. With answers to these questions, you'll know whether it's worth moving forward, worth waiting, or worth killing the idea altogether.
Marketing professionals also come across this sort of challenge. At some point in the growth of many companies, the question arises: "should we advertise on TV?" It's expensive, so it's an important decision to get right. Weighing the pros and cons seems like a straightforward approach, but so much subjectivity goes into this type of decision-making process. You might end up with this sort of debate: "yes, we should, because it's worth the money," versus, "no, we shouldn't, because it's not worth the money." Frustrating.
But asking "what would need to happen for our advertising to work?" gets you thinking in a different way. What would need to happen? First, you'd need to know who your target consumer is because you want to make sure your ad appeals to those people most likely to buy your product or service. Do you know who they are and what drives their purchasing decisions? If not, could you know this? Also, how much exposure do your ads need to have in order to be sufficiently effective? Are we talking about hours and hours of prime air time? If so, do you have the money for that? What ad content would be memorable, and how would that content ensure brand recall (you don't want people to talk about your awesome ad but then ask themselves "now what was that brand again?"). Once you have all the information you need lined up, you're better able to weigh the costs and the likelihood of success, which gets you much closer to making the right decision.
Even if you don’t like Motley Crue, it’s hard to disagree with the fact that they've been successful. They may have never happened if Sixx had settled on a “yes or no” question rather than asking, “what do I need to do to make this possible?” Your business challenges aren't too much different. Don’t dive in, don't give up too soon, and don't spin your wheels. Making the right decisions starts with framing your decisions the right way. Ask the right questions and get closer to the right decision.