What’s Actionable – Helping you make Better Decisions

  • Goal of the Book:

    • Help you be more successful by helping you make better decisions.

  • Fundamental Beliefs driving this effort

    • Success comes from making better decisions

    • Better decisions come from having better information

    • Better Information comes from better communication

    • You can always get better at communication



I was at a salad bar and the guy in front of me put beets on his salad.  Gross!  You could see me eat salads until the day I die and you would probably never see me put beets on my salad.[1] Yet, this guy apparently likes beets.  That’s what’s great about a salad bar.  No two people will make the same salad.  In fact, not only will no two people make the same salad, YOU won’t make the exact same salad twice.  There will always be something different about your salad each time you go through.

Life is like a salad bar!  You make choices based on your particular desires at that moment and the opportunities in front of you at that moment.  Notice I use the words “at that moment!”  You might disagree with me on this, but I fundamentally believe that our desires and opportunities change moment to moment, as the saying goes; “You cannot step into the same river twice.” [2]

The choices you make in life are the result of what you want at that moment and the opportunities available to you at that moment.

I love spinach in my salad.  But, there are no guarantees that spinach will be available when I want it.  They might have run out, it might not be in season, or the spinach might not look appetizing enough to eat.

We live in a world full of different people with different tastes.[3] Some people would never think of putting spinach on their salad as much as I would never think of putting beets on my salad.

Having a world full of different people with different tastes is a marvelous thing.  It’s what makes life exciting and unpredictable.  But it also has a dark side.  It often creates conflicts and tensions.

It creates internal conflict as you debate with yourself over making the “right” choices.  You look at the guy in front of you putting different things on their salad and you start to question your own choices.  Does this guy know something I don’t?  Should I make different choices?

And, it can create external conflicts with others as we all try to make sure that the “right” choices are available.

Even though I might think that someone else’s particular choice is strange or interesting – as I do when I see someone put beets on their salad – I would never tell someone that they’ve made a bad choice at a salad bar.[4][5]

Yet, if you extend the salad bar analogy to life, there are any numbers of people out there who not only have no problem criticizing the choices you make; they go out of their way to comment on your choices.  In fact, some people see it as their mission to tell you what to choose[6].  Metaphorically speaking these people hate the concept of salad bars.  They would rather build the salad for you and present you with a finished salad.  They believe they know the right combination of things you need and want.  They believe choices only confuse you and you are not capable of deciding for yourself what you want!  They’ll tell you what’s best to have on your salad and in what combinations.  And if they think beets should be on your salad, they will tell you to have beets; they won’t ask you if you want beets, they’ll just tell you what to do.  And they’ll insist that the Salad Bar owner have beets available.

I’m not one of those people.  In fact, I’m as far from those people as you can get.  To me, individual choice is the only recipe for success in life.  We’re all different, with different genetics, different experiences, and different environments.  I’m not sure I know the “right” choices for myself, let alone the “right” choices for you.  I’ve an idea and an opinion of what works for me, but I know there could always be a better way to do something.  I’d never tell myself that what I’m doing is absolutely the very best thing to do.  So, I would never presume to tell someone else that if they do what I do they would be successful.

Bottom line to all this is that I have the power over my own choices and I have to work at making the best choices for me.

To help me manage all my choices I’ve developed a few simple rules.  I’ve put these rules in terms of “What’s Actionable” so you can see how I apply these things to my life.[7]


Of course, I recognize that it’s easier to say these things than to do them.  That’s why in all things I say I’ll “try.”  It’s one thing to say you need to need to eat less fat; it’s another thing to avoid the bacon bits and not put them on your salad.  It’s one thing to say you are going to talk less and listen more; it’s another thing, in the heat of a discussion, to actually stop talking.

Before I go too much further it occurs to me that you might be thinking that I’m saying there is little or no value in consistency or predictability.  Let me be very clear, I absolutely believe there is huge value in finding something that works and continuing to do it.  As they say, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.  There is security in people doing things in a similar and predictable ways.  When I go to a restaurant I know someone will take my order, someone will bring it to my table, and I’ll pay for it.  It would be chaos if there was no predictability in the world.  And it would be impossible to function if every decision had to be re-analyzed every time.  When I go to a salad bar I know I like spinach and don’t like beets.  I don’t have to think about.

The important message from all this is; finding the right balance between uniformity and variation and between predictability and novelty is one key to success.  Understanding that different situations have a different balance is the second, sometimes more critical, key to success.

But to do that you need to understand that on one hand uniformity for uniformity’s sake, and on the other hand innovation for innovation’s sake, isn’t going to serve you well in the end.  If we never changed, there would be no innovation.  But on the other hand, if we never knew what to expect we could not make any plans for the future.  Innovation in food delivery brought us McDonalds[11].  But we still have nice sit down restaurants where people wait on you the way it has been for hundreds of years.

To explain this point a bit further, let me go back to the salad bar.  Notice in the first paragraph I said that I “probably” would never eat beets; I didn’t say I would “never” eat beets[12].  It’s possible that through the right combination of personal and environmental changes, I might try beets.  And who knows, I might find I like them.  That happened to me with sweet potatoes.  I never ate sweet potatoes.  But because I found out they were healthier than regular potatoes and I saw that Annette[13] really liked them, I tried them and I actually liked them.  I haven’t gotten to the point where I have eaten a sweet potato pie yet, but I like pumpkin pie, and I think they might be similar, so I would give it a try if the opportunity presented itself.  Do you see my point here?  You shouldn’t be locked into your choices either because they are what you have done in the past or because someone has told you that is the “right” choice.  Just because something ain’t broke doesn’t mean it can’t be improved.

Finally let me try to describe what I’m talking about from a different perspective.  There’s joke that’s been around for a while and you hear it often in corporate meetings.  It goes like this.

Two guys camping in the woods.  A bear appears.  One of the campers puts on his running shoes.  The other camper says, “Why are you putting on your running shoes?  You can’t outrun a bear.”  The other camper looks up at him and says smiling, “I don’t have to outrun the bear.  I just have to outrun you.”


If you assume that life is a competition, which I definitely think it is, then, in general, you don’t have to make the absolute best choice possible.  You just have to make better choices than your competition.  Anyone that watches the Olympics knows that the difference between a Gold Medal and nothing could be 1/10th of a second.  But the difference between a world-class athlete and me could be hours[14].  When competing against another world-class athlete an Olympian has to pay attention to every choice they make.  When competing against me, they don’t have to pay as much attention to every choice.

The point is that you shouldn’t beat yourself up if you don’t make the perfect choice every time.  Just try to make the best choice at the time.  And don’t compare yourself to world-class choice makers; compare yourself to your peers.[15]

There are thousands of books on “success,” and any number of people more than willing to tell you how you can be more successful.  Some of those ideas are very good.  I personally have learned a lot from listening to some of those people.  What I hope to do here is add my voice to that list.  I want to offer you another choice.  I want to put another choice in your salad bar of life.

I also want to suggest that while I write this as a guide to personal behavior, all the things I say here are true for groups and businesses as well as individuals.  Just as an individual that insists that things cannot get better will not maximize their potential, an organization, business, or family that does not constantly try to make better decisions will not maximize their potential either.[16]

I’m going to say this again because I want it to be perfectly clear; in no way do I believe that my approach is the only approach you could use, nor do I think it’s necessarily the best choice for you.  I do, however, truly believe my approach works great for me.  And I think my approach is very unique, and thus worthy of telling you about it.


What’s Actionable

At this point, I hope you’re asking, “So what’s so unique about your approach?”  “Why should I listen to you?”

Well, I’m so glad you asked.  What I think I bring to the discussion that’s different and unique is my concentration on “effective communication” as a key to making better choices, achieve positive growth and greater success[17].  I see good communication as the foundation of success because; #1) making good decisions requires good information and #2) it’s only through good communication that we get good information.

Good communication is the foundation of success because making good decisions requires good information and it’s only through good communication that we get good information.

My unique personal education[18] and personal experiences[19] has lead me to two key and simple truths; 1) To have good communication you need to focus first on the “Intent” of the communication and 2) To make the right decisions you need to focus on the “Actionable” pieces of information in the communication.  Everything else is commentary.[20]

I’ve learned over the years that you cannot get or give good information if you cannot communicate well and having good communication is useless if you have nothing to say.  As Plato said, “Wise men speak because they have something to say; Fools because they have to say something.”[21]

If you concentrate on improving your communication through a specific awareness to the clarity of your intent and a laser like focus on what’s actionable, I believe you’ll find your decision making more effective.  A great thing about this approach is that you can apply it in any number of different ways; not only decision-making but also building partnerships, helping family and team members, and in your own continuous improvement.

The underlying heart of this book is the concept of “What’s Actionable.”  This stems from the notion that if you have a clear idea of what you are trying to accomplish you can focus on what is important and filter out all the noise.  By concentrating on “What’s Actionable,” you can focus more clearly on the specific information that will help you achieve the goal and ignore the distractions that can take you off course.  It is easier to go through a salad bar if you have a clear idea of what you want to accomplish.

In today’s information rich environment,[22] being able to focus on only the important, significant, and essential information is critical for success.  Gathering information in today’s information rich environment is exactly like choosing what to pick, and how much to pick, along a salad bar.

Whenever I make a decision, I first ask, what I’m I trying to achieve.  As I’m writing this I’m thinking to myself, “What am I trying to achieve with my words?”  I know this is a broad question.  It could be asked in any number of different ways, depending on the situation.  I might ask, “What’s the goal?” I might ask, “What action do I want to take.”  Or I might ask, “Where do I want to be at the end of the process.”  But, however I ask it, keeping the goal clearly in sight forces me to keep the focus on “What’s Actionable.”

Now, having said all that, I want to let you know that I clearly expect you to ask the same thing of me.  I expect you to ask, “What’s actionable about this book.”  And that’s exactly the right question.  You need to understand what you’re trying to achieve whenever you do anything.  You need to understand why you’re going to spend your precious and limited time reading the BS I’m spewing here.   You need to be skeptical about everything you read, including what you read here.  You need to be constantly asking what’s actionable about this.  You need to ask, “What can I do with this?”

I want to make one more important point.  If you’re not interested in change, then nothing is actionable and you should not waste your time on this.  I’m writing this hoping that you’re at a place where you sincerely believe you can and should change.  I’m writing this hoping that you are willing to say that there might be a different way to do things.  Notice I didn’t say “better way,” I said a different way.  As I said before there are many ways to achieve a goal, what I present here is just one way.

If you are willing to accept that you should and can change, then there are things in this book that are very actionable.  Because I recognize how difficult it is to change, I’ve structured this book so the suggestions I make can be implemented with little or no effort at all and with no training and with no cost.

My intent here is to present a different approach to everyday living.  If there is something I say that you like and you think can help you, then great.

Looking at life like a salad bar works well for me.  Each of us makes our own choices that work for us.  Each of us is unique.  Each of us has unique genetic codes driving our behavior and each of us has unique situational experiences that no one shares.  What may work well for me may be totally wrong for you.  Run away as fast as you can from anyone suggesting they have the answer for you, based on what works for them.

I know it’s easy to think that your way is the only way.  In fact, George Carlin had a joke about this.  He observed that “We all think that everyone that drives faster than us is a maniac and everyone that drives slower than us is an idiot.”  Implying that we all think that our way is always the best way.

So when reading this, ask yourself if this applies to you.  Ask yourself if this particular item would help.  The key here is that you need to treat advice like a salad bar and take what you want.

Remember: Proverbs often contradict one another.  The wisdom that advises us to look before we leap also warns us that if we hesitate we are lost.  The suggestion that absence makes the heart grow fonder also reminds us that out of sight, out of mind.[23]

Almost every wise saying has an opposite one, no less wise, to balance it.[24]

So please recognize that it’s up to you to pick and chose that which works for you.  In no way am I telling you what to do.  I just sincerely implore you to accept there are things you can change and that just because you made a particular choice yesterday does not mean you have to make that same choice today.

It’s with that perspective that I offer my advice.  I offer it like I would build a salad bar.  I’ll put everything into little buckets and identify them clearly.  You can then go down the line and say, I like that I’ll take it, but I don’t like that I’ll leave that one behind.

At the end of this process, hopefully your plate will be full and who knows, if you are hungry again maybe you will go through the line and pick out different things.

I hope you enjoy this

[1] I say probably because it’s possible I may change my tastes.  I never used to like sweet potatoes, but now I do.  For any number of reasons we can, do, and should change.  Which, by the way, will be a recurring theme throughout this book.

[2] Heraclitus, in Diogenes Laertius, Lives

[3] A discussion of the biology of taste would be interesting.  Is there biological evidence that we all taste things differently based on the number and type of taste buds.  The question being how much of taste is genetic.  This might get us to the nature vs nurture discussion, which is not necessary for this book.

[4] I might tell someone they’ve made a bad choice in other situations (just ask my kids.)  But, I wouldn’t at a Salad Bar.  Everyone is entitled to their own choices at a salad bar.

[5] Of course I have no problem as a parent telling my kids they’ve made bad choices.

[6] This happened to me in the Army when someone crossed the street specifically to tell me that they did not think my shoes were shined enough.

[7] This is the first introduction of the concept of “What’s Actionable.”  I’ll get into much more detail throughout the book.  I provide it here so you can see how it’s applied.

[8] Buckminster Fuller used a great image to describe this.  He said, if you are in a shipwreck and all life boats are gone, a piano top buoyant enough to keep you afloat makes a fortuitous life preserver.  But the best way to design a life preserver is not in the form of a piano top.  He thinks we are “clinging to a great many piano tops in accepting yesterday’s fortuitous contriving as constituting the only means for solving a given problem.” Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth, page 1.

[9] You need to listen carefully because opportunity often knocks very softly.  There is a concept of “the still small voice.” I Kings 19: 11-12.  This can be applied in any number of situations.

[10] I either do it myself or work with others to make additional choices available.  It would be like asking the salad bar operator to add it to a salad bar.  It’s like going to the grocery store and asking the manager to carry an item they don’t currently carry.

[11] This is not to say that fast food is a great idea or not.  I could have used any other nontraditional restaurant model, like buffets, drive ins, delivery, or food carts.

[12] by the way you could put Brussels sprouts in the same category of things I would probably never eat, along with turnips.

[13] Annette, for those that do not know is my Wife of 26 years.

[14] A world Class Marathoner runs a marathon in just over 2 hours.  I run a marathon in 5 hours.

[15] Unless, of course, your peers are world class decision makers.  Then you have to up your game.

[16] Athletes are a great example of this.  Look at the story of the baseball pitcher Nolan Ryan.  When Ryan came into the league he was known as the “The Ryan Express” because he threw a fastball that was regularly recorded above 100 miles per hour.  But as he got older he physically couldn’t pitch that fast anymore.  So he developed other pitches to complement his fastball.  As a result of him embracing the fact that things change he was able to pitch for a major league record of 27 years.

[17] Of course there are other things needed for success.  Luck is important.  But you also need the skills to perform the task and the opportunity to use those skills. I see communication as just one skill, an important skill but just another skill.  If you play baseball you need to be able to hit a fastball.  If you are a computer programmer you need to be able to write code.  If you are a stage actor you need to remember your lines.  If you are a runner you need to run fast.

[18] Undergraduate degree in Communications Studies, with a minor in Psycho-Linguistics from UCLA, and a MA from the Annenberg School of Communication, and 30 years of teaching Communication.

[19] 35 years in the telecommunications industry with the same company

[20] The phrase “everything else is commentary,” can be traced to the Talmudic story where the rabbinic sage, Hillel was asked to sum up the Torah (the first five books of the bible).  Hillel’s rely, “That which is hateful to you, do not unto another: This is the whole Torah. The rest is commentary — [and now] go study.”  There are many sources for this, this is just one I found; http://www.forward.com/articles/14250/#ixzz166zxAudD

[21][21] I’ll use Sarah Palin as a great example as someone that speaks even through she has nothing new to add to the discussion.

[22] One can have a whole discussion on information overload, the causes and remedies.  Perhaps that might be another book.

[23] Leo Rosten

[24] Santayana