These three quotes encompass my goals of this book.  I want to show you how to get good information, as Disraeli suggests, how to be the most responsive to change as Darwin suggests, and how to apply what we know as Goethe suggests.


Two things are true for me, and I suspect true for you too; I’m either asking someone to do something for me or I’m being asked to do something for them.  And in both cases the question highest in my mind is; “What’s Actionable!”

When I send an email, or call someone, I try to make it very clear what action I want them to take.  When I reach out to another person, I think about what I expect that person to do.  And by doing so I’m forced to ask myself, “Can they accomplish the thing I’m asking them to do?”  If I ask my wife, Annette, to bake a pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving dinner, I have every expectation that she can do that.[1]  But on the other hand, I would never ask Annette to build a shelf or change the oil in the car.[2]

When I order at a restaurant I’m giving “actionable” instructions to the waiter.  I’m telling that person what actions I want them to perform.  When Annette asks me to mow the lawn she’s giving me actionable instructions to go out and cut the lawn.  When my boss asks for a status report or when I ask my customer to sign the agreement there’s a request for action on someone’s part.

The concept of what is actionable has even turned up in Congressional testimony.  When asked why the Bush Administration didn’t do anything to prevent the 9/11 attacks after they received the infamous Presidential Daily Briefing (PRB) Memo, “Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the US,” Condoleezza Rice said there was nothing actionable in the memo.

She used the word “actionable” 5 times in her testimony.  Here are two examples of what she said specifically about the PRB[3]:

I think these examples show the exact correct usage of the term “Actionable.”

In another part of the testimony she says, “The president was told this is historical information. I am told he was told this is historical information. And there was nothing actionable in this. The president knew that the FBI was pursuing this issue. The president knew that the director of central intelligence was pursuing this issue. And there was no new threat information in this document to pursue.

 Notice the key phase here is there was “no new threat information.”  In other words there was nothing actionable.  The assumption is that they were doing everything they could and that the memo did not have anything that would cause them to change their behavior”. [4]

Within her testimony contains everything I’m trying to say.  She talks about how information determines what behaviors they would take.  Actionable means looking at information as a source of determining behavior.

A similar example of what’s actionable, though clearly nowhere nearly as dramatic, is the gas gauge in your car.  The gas gauge provides actionable information.  Of course, whether you actually take action or not is up to you.  What is interesting about the gas gauge is that different people use different methods of making the gas gauge actionable.  Some get gas when the gauge is ½ full.  Others get gas when it’s almost empty.  Others wait until the light goes on.  And some use a combination of the gauge and the miles driven.

This is where understanding the “Intent” of the decision is critical.  If the intent is simply to get gas, and if it does not matter where, you might make one decision.  If the intent is to get the cheapest gas, or the intent is to get gas along the way, or the intent is to get gas where you can also get a fresh donut, you might make another decision.  So, while the gas gauge is clearly giving you actionable information it’s not the only information you need to make the best decision.

Gaining a clear understanding of the intent is both extremely easy and extremely difficult depending on the situation.  That’s why I’m going to spend a whole chapter talking about setting the goals (Chapter 2).

The intent of the gas gauge is to help make sure you don’t run out of gas.  If you don’t run out of gas, then whatever strategy you use is fine.  In fact it’s fully possible to live your entire driving life, never run out of gas, and never look at your gas gauge.  You might use the miles driven or you might simply get gas every morning on your way to work.  However, if you run out of gas, that may be an opportunity to improve your decision making.  Every problem could be viewed as an opportunity to improve an understanding of what’s actionable.

Continuing with the gas gauge example; let’s say you look at the gas gauge and you decide to get gas.  You start thinking about where and when to get gas.  Then the gas gauge light comes on.  Is the fact that the gas gauge light came on actionable?  No!  You already thought about getting gas and decided to get it on the way home.  The fact the gas gauge light comes on isn’t actionable at all.  To paraphrase Ms. Rice, there is no new information.  It’s not uncommon for me to look at the gas gauge and determine that I need gas.  Then the light goes on.  The light coming on is not actionable.  I have already decided I’m getting gas.  However, if I wasn’t paying attention to the gas gauge and the first notice I got was the gas gauge light, then that light becomes very actionable.[5]

Now sometimes people want me to do something but they are not clear in their instructions.  The other night Annette and I had just gone to bed and she said, “I’m cold.” In and of itself, the statement, “I’m cold” doesn’t seem very actionable.  After all it’s just a declarative statement of fact.  OK, you’re cold, fine.  I’m personally not cold, but I understand that you’re cold.  Thank you for sharing.  But, those of you that have been in long term relationships know that there was actually something very actionable in the statement.  What she was really saying was, “I’m cold and so you should get out of bed and turn up the heat.”  When she said she was cold, I had to think, “OK, what’s actionable in her statement?”  Success in my marriage is based on looking past the specific words and focusing on what Annette’s “intent” is.

Unfortunately this kind of vague communication is not unusual.  It’s not uncommon for us to get an email or hear a comment and not be clear on what is actionable.  And the saddest part of this is that some people get upset when other people don’t take the actions they wanted them to take and they blame the other person, even though the directions they gave were not clearly actionable.  In too many cases, people don’t look in the mirror and accept it was their own fault for not getting what they want.

Here is another example. Have you ever gotten an email and you think to yourself, “what is this email asking me to do?”  The clearer someone is with what they want, the greater the likelihood that it will get done.  This lack of clear intent also appears in meetings.  Have you ever gone to a meeting and after the meeting asked a co-worker why you were at that meeting?

The question you should ask before, during, and after every communication event is; What’s Actionable?  What is the reason for this communication?  What am I expecting this person to do as a result of this interaction?

To help me keep focused on what’s actionable, I’ve come up with a simple way to look at decisions.  I call it the TIDAL approach to decision making.


  • Target
  • Information
  • Decision
  • Action
  • Learning


I’ve structured this book to help you make the TIDAL approach to decision making actionable.

Chapter 1 –  Even though “Learning” is the last step in the TIDAL approach, I’ll talk about it first.  Because setting the right foundation for learning is critical to success in life.  Also, the fact I do this first indicates that Learning is the Goal.

Chapter 2 – I’ll talk about how to select a “target,” goal, or objective.

Chapter 3 & 4 – I’ll talk about Communication and Information in terms of how to get the best information you can.  I’ll discuss communication and how to overcome some of the barriers to good communication.

Chapter 5 – I’ll go over decision making in general and the TIDAL approach in detail.

Viewed in its entirety, this book lays out, in as much detail as I can, the methods that can be used to arrive at better decisions and how to put those decisions into “Actions.”

I hope you enjoy this.

[1] Annette is a great cook.  And I love her pumpkin pies.

[2] Not that she could not do it at all.  It’s just it’s not something she could do easily.  She would probably hire someone to do it.

[3]Statement by Condoleezza Rice before Congress on 4/8/2004 about why they didn’t act on the memo, “Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States.”

[4]Statement by Condoleezza Rice before Congress on 4/8/2004 about why they didn’t act on the memo, “Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States.”

[5]  in the for what’s it worth department are you the kind of person that waits for the light to come on before you think about getting gas, or are you the kind of person that knows well in advance of the light coming on when and where you are getting gas?  This also shows how the timing a bit of information can determine its value.