How To Make Difficult Decisions With A Coin Flip

Nov 29, 2010

To be fair, I never make a decision based ENTIRELY on a coin flip.  On occasion, though, it provides final confirmation for me.

When analyzing a problem or situation, especially a difficult choice, it’s easy to become mired in the details.  You collect all of the available data, confer with friends, colleagues, relatives, and sometimes even perfect strangers if the checkout line is long enough.  All of this data and these opinions can lead further into indecision, though, slowing progress toward action.

So you may decide to go back out and get more data, and more feedback.  The issue with this loop, though, is that it’s endless.  Consensus building is challenging, and it’s likely that a democratic approach will fail you if this is a decision for you or your company – where the buck really does need to stop with you.  Chances are, there will be winners and losers, and the impacted parties will vary on either side of the decision.

This is where the coin flip comes in for me.  Once I’ve accumulated the relevant data and spoken to the key people (people who will be impacted by my decision), I pull out a quarter.  I pick heads or tails, and I flip.  Now, there is a key element to WHY this works for me – it doesn’t really matter which side I pick, or how the coin lands.  It’s just a tool for me to figure out what my gut instinct is.

For example – when I graduated from college, I was fortunate enough to have a few different job opportunities.  I created a spreadsheet of the pros and cons of each, but was unable to come up with a final selection that felt rational.  When I had narrowed my options to two, I flipped a coin.  Heads = Job A; Tails = Job B.  The coin landed on heads and my immediate thought was “I’ll do 2 out of 3”.  So now I knew that the job I really wanted to take was Job B.

If you are struggling with a decision, give it a try – you just never know. 


A collection of books from B2B CFO® to help any business succeed. Read the first chapter from books, including the Wall Street Journal’s book, for free.