The darker it is, the more aggressively you may have to move

In this post I explore an apparent paradox: sometimes, the less you know, the quicker you need to act. We explore this idea and its nuances through a survival race analogy.

With decisions there's always the question of do you need to decide now, or can you wait? Is anyone trying to rush you? That's a topic for a different post. Today let's assume that you have to move, you can't simply wait it out.

Challenge: You are stranded, lacking any supplies, getting thirstier and hungrier by the hour. You need to get from where you are (the viewpoint in the picture) to a supply pack with essential supplies. You don't know the exact position of the supply pack, it's small and you can't see it from here, but you know it's towards the horizon. Competitors are present and the first to get it wins. 

Situation A: clear view of the landscape

It's daylight, clear weather, perfect visibility. It makes sense to plan. The 15-20 minutes you'll spend looking carefully at the landscape and mapping out a route before setting into the terrain down there and losing your vantage point from a height are definitely worth it as they will save you much pain and delay later on. Look for major landmarks, like mountains in the distance, which way should you be facing them as you move? Look at the sun, determine and memorize the North in relation to the landmarks. On the path you've mapped out in your head, do you see any high points you could scale as you get there to better see what's ahead? Can you guesstimate your speed, by where do you think you'll be by nightfall? Is that a river you see in the distance? Do you see any difficult terrain you'd like to avoid? Do you see any further water that you'd like to go by and rehydrate from? Do you see any of your competitors anywhere?

When you have easy access to relevant information, it's worth gathering it, interpreting and planning on it. Beware of diminishing returns: you'll learn 80% of what can be learned very quickly and you could agonize for ever over the remaining 20%. Don't.

Situation B: you're near-sighted; you see clearly up close, but the distance is blurred

You can still see the sun and the big, major landmarks so that's still worth taking in and memorizing. You can see that there's valleys and canyons up ahead but it's impossible to decide from here in detail how to navigate them. Best you can do is map a high level course, avoiding the main shapes . Any small distant bodies of water would be impossible to see from here, unless maybe the bright sun would glean into them at just the right angle and they'd shine like mirrors. You wouldn't be able to see any competitors unless they were in your vicinity. 

You are aware of your own information gathering shortcomings. You quickly determine what you can, you are aware of what you can't see, and you move. Moving for your is not just about sprinting to your destination, it's equally about being able to see more as you move along. 

Situation C: it's a dark night

Good for you if you're shortsighted, as everyone with good vision just lost their competitive advantage. 

There's almost nothing to see. You can maybe, maybe, distinguish the shape of the biggest mountains against the almost pitch black sky. You can maybe hear some lone animals making noises. You can determine North from the few visible stars but that's really about it. It's a risk to travel at night in these conditions. You could spend precious energy going in directions that lead to dead ends and you may have to backtrack for miles. You have a headlamp so you can see where you step and a few meters ahead, but that's about it. If you were in comfort and there'd be no rush, the decision would be a no brainer: wait for sun up. This way though, with aggressive competitors, thirst and hunger to consider, waiting for better visibility is almost certain failure. 

Counterintuitively, you have less reason plan at night when you can't see, than at day when you can see well. In competitive situations, lack of information is not a reason to wait, but to aggressively move. This creates risk, but in highly tense and competitive landscapes, the risk of moving into darkness may be lesser than the risk of waiting.

Application in business

Traditional management is focused on detailed analysis, planning and justification of decisions. I would argue that the detail of a plan is not the same as the quality of the plan. Sometimes, they can even opposites. Worse, due to corporate politics, analysis paralysis frequently happens simply to protect careers and positions, with no other reason behind it. 

What many managers miss is that a decision is not just a commitment to invest resources in a certain course of action. A decision is a also a gateway to more knowledge, to further decisions. A decision is a learning mechanism. If you can't see, you have to move, and by moving you'll see more, learn more, and adjust course. A decision today is a prerequisite for the decision you'll need to make tomorrow. You can't skip these intermediary decisions unless you have a very clear view of the situation and easy access to relevant information, but then again, if you do, we're probably not talking about innovative, ambiguous, emerging, highly competitive landscapes. 

The darker it is, the more aggressively you may have to move.