Why indecision is worse than a bad decision

Indecision is the worst trait you can find in a startup founder. Actually, it's the worst trait you can find in anyone tasked with leading or shaping the direction of any company or project. Indecision, is simply delaying the making of a decision. Sounds reasonably obvious when you say it out load, but what isn't obvious is the implications of delaying a decision. Delaying a decision is effectively delaying work. Being indecisive is therefore no better than procrastination. Both are a barrier to getting things done. It doesn't matter whether you're running a startup, or just deciding on what to eat for lunch, indecision just makes things worse. Right now you may be stuck deciding what to eat, but in an hour's time your lunch break is over and you're bloody starving. Better to suck it up now and just have the damned noodles.

People are indecisive out of fear of making a bad decision. The logic goes that by delaying the decision, I can gather more information and then have a more informed opinion later. The information they're waiting for is really just something to either make them feel more secure in what they've already decided, or something to sway them away from something they don't want to decide. Either way, more information is unlikely to help. If you're in a position where you need to make a call now; make the call now. Looking at the menu for another ten minutes isn't going to make the noodles taste any better.

The absolute worst case is the person who delays a decision until it gets to a point that it simply becomes someone else's decision. If you meet someone like this, run the other way...especially if they're leading a team you're in. I've found myself in a position a couple of times where I've relied on someone above me in a company to make tough decisions.  In many cases the person just went on holiday, or avoided me for a week just to avoid the inevitable discussion, decision and implications. In the end, the hard tasks just fall to someone else often ill equipped to deal them. This lack of confidence in one's ability to make difficult decisions makes for poor leaders and, consequently, poor teams.

There are many reasonable sounding excuses for delays in decision making. Gathering information is one such reason and is often necessitous when making a decision. The danger in gathering too much information is when the information is being gathered simply to confirm a well known hypothesis. If it looks like someone in your team isn't pulling their weight, there is little point gathering evidence to confirm the fact. If they're not up to scratch, show them the door. The opposite case is the search for information to avoid a difficult, but necessary, choice. The reality is that if you look hard enough you can find information to confirm just about anything you like. Giving someone the opportunity to do so just gives them a chance to put weight behind a decision that everyone knows is wrong.

Another reason for indecision is when there doesn't appear to be a good option. Sometimes you're faced with a situation where you have two choices, and they're both bad. The natural inclination of most people is to simply delay making a decision in the hope that a better option comes along. Of course it's possible, but if a better option doesn't surface, you've likely left yourself with the same two choices you started with...except now you're a month poorer as well. Sometimes you just have to play the cards you're dealt.

Some time ago I watched a great video on youtube about indecision and inaction over global warming. The premise of the video is that we can act or not act, and global warming could be true or not true. There are therefore 4 possible outcomes, the best case being we act on global warming and it turns out to be true, and the worst case is that we don't act and it also turns out to be true. The interesting part about the video in this context, is arriving at how to decide if you should act.. 

Imagine we're provided with a situation where we may or may not have a major problem in our software; we'll use the infamous Y2K bug as an example. If we spend a heap of money investigating if our software is affected and it IS then we're all thrilled that we avoided disaster. Good decision! If it turns out that we weren't affected...well at least we know! That's still pretty good....even if it did cost us a truck load of time and money.

Now, let's imagine we didn't do anything. NYE rocks around and we're out partying the night away. Barry, our sysadmin calls us at midnight with the news. If everything is ok we all high-five each other and get on with the partying. If, on the other hand, all of our software is now dead, banks are going belly up, planes are crashing, toasters are exploding...well...we'd probably be in a really bad place. Here's a handy little chart with the possible outcomes from a situation like this.

In essence, when you have an unknown outcome it's always better to act than it is to not act. If you don't act and things go bad, they can go really bad. So what's this got to do with indecision? Well, indecision is the same as not acting. By not making a decision, you're in effect choosing the "don't act" column. By not acting, you're rolling the dice and hoping for the best, you're giving up any say in the matter, you're relinquishing control to some external power, you're crossing your fingers and toes. This isn't the way to deal with global warming, and it isn't the right way to run your business. If you have control, use it.

Difficult situations don't disappear. They just get worse. If you've got a bad employee causing problems, delaying the hard decision to give him the boot just increases the chances of him affecting those around him. If your website is losing you money, delaying the decision to pull the pin will just cost you even more. Decide early, and act swiftly.

So what's the worst that can happen if you make the wrong decision? The fact that you decided to do it means that it was the right decision at the time with the information you had. So it only became a bad decision when unknowns surfaced, or when something changed. When that happens, you simply make a new decision. That may be that you alter what you were doing slightly, or it may be that you scrap it in favour of a new path. Either way, by making a decision you forced an outcome. If you hadn't acted, those unknowns would still be unknown. By making decisions constantly based on the information available, you uncover newer information more quickly. Inaction rarely provides anything actionable.

Very rarely, you can make a call which turns out so horribly wrong that you wonder how you could ever have made such a stupid mistake. When this happens, talk it out. If your customers are pissed at you, get on the phone, email, twitter and talk to them. Apologise for your mistake and ask what you can do to make it better. If you broke something, let people know, and get help to fix it. It is highly unlikely that you'll ever make a mistake that you can't recover from. Put you hand up, own the error and start talking about how to fix it. Taking actions sometimes means taking risks, but without taking risks you will never achieve something great.

So when you're faced with a decision, look at your options, talk it over, experiment, research and ponder...but when you're done, make a decision. The sooner you get moving, the sooner you find out if you were right or not. The earlier you act, the more choices you will likely have available. Leave your decisions until the last minute, and you'll often find the options have dwindled significantly. 

What do you do when company X (or Z) copies your app?

It's the first question you'll be asked whenever you ask an investor for money, or if you're just doing SWOT analysis of your own product. It's also the first question you should ask yourself when you have that first great stroke of inspiration. The usual question is, "What would you do if Google copied your app?".

The answer is usually, "Panic!!". In the words of Douglas Adams, "Don't Panic". If you're building something cool, and someone copies you, it means you're on to a good thing. Stick with it!

We've had a lot of people ask us about Verify App and more specifically Clue app. They ask how cheesed we are that it looks to be a "direct copy of fivesecondtest.com". Plenty of people have even mentioned to us that their entire suite of "verify" apps are in one way or another "inspired" by our work. We've kept quiet about it for the past few months, because...well...frankly I don't care what they're doing. 

People keep asking me...so now I'm answering.

I wouldn't say they've stolen our apps. I don't believe it's possible to "steal" an idea, or a concept, or even an implementation. Sure their memory test runs exactly like our five second test, and sure they ask what 5 things you remember exactly like ours (and it's displayed the same way), and yes they display test results in exactly the same way with exactly the same bar chart with exactly the same grouping of keywords. The big difference is that their test is 5 and half seconds! Got to have something to differentiate I guess? Ideas are free, and they can take what they like and implement it how they like. I'm not going to get my nose out of joint about it (except when press call them innovative...that really pisses me off).

And about Verify App? Yes their label test works exactly like ours (which we ditched), and their click test works exactly like ours, and their preference test is exactly the same as our preference test (which we also ditched) and their multi-page click test is a (poor) copy of our Navflow app. I think they only app they've built that isn't like one we'd already built is the one that is based on their own Notable app (which is a great app I might add).  I've heard it all before, yes we know...yes it's annoying. But it's not like we invented any of those things. There are dozens of them around, and most of them in isolation are better than either Zurb's or ours, particularly those that do live web site testing.

Here's the thing though, none of it matters. Yes Zurb suck. Yes I hate them as much as I would hate anyone who sees something they like and pays wads of cash to get it. But it doesn't matter. They've already lost and they don't even know it. I laugh at them and their silly hats. I may sound like the Black Knight from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, but you can't say the guy didn't have balls.

The thing is, we've been in this space for well over 2 years now. We practically invented crowd sourced usability testing. We know this space better than anyone. We've spent 2 years learning the absolute best way to crowd source and deliver fast but useful usability testing. Zurb think they've got something over us, but in reality they don't. It amazes me the number of users on ClueApp that get ZERO responses. Yes, ZERO. And they want people to pay for that? Wow. The tests they've only just finished implementing, we've already ditched. They have a nicer interface than us, I'll give them that...but otherwise, they're way behind.

The real problem is that ClueApp.com is useless. Just as useless as our original five second test was. It's a gimmick, nothing more. Something you tweet about and people fill it in and you realise you've not learned a damned thing. We never intended it to be anything more, and I doubt Zurb do either. As a usability test, it's meaningless. We ditched our "label" test for the same reason. It was ineffective at communicating what could be done easier with Fivesecondtest or with our existing click test. We ditched the preference test because people invariably just clicked "the image on the left". We ditched the little bar chart in five second test results because it was hopeless at conveying widely varying responses. We ditched the simple "what do you remember" question because without context, any usability test is useless. If there is one thing you take away from this post, it's that you know your product better than anyone. Don't worry what the other guy is doing when you already know better.

Zurb don't even realise that before they've even started, half of their apps are completely and utterly worthless as real usability tests. (Sorry to break it to you guys!) I'm not saying that because I'm pissed that they "copied us". I'm saying that because we had these apps and made the decision to cull them from our tools. The ones that remained; we changed how they work over and over until we hit the magic spot. Zurb will do the same once they realise they got it wrong. Wait and see how long it takes them to move away from the bar graph to a tag cloud (thanks to DannyB for that suggestion).

We first saw VerifyApp a few months ago when Navflow.com was coming out of beta. I haven't looked at it since. I know Zurb are watching us. While they're watching, they're not innovating. As a startup, that's the thing you always need to keep in mind. The only interest we show in what they're doing is in the Press.We do what we can to hitch a ride on their press dollars. We got a good mentioned in a New York Times article about ClueApp without us spending a cent on marketing. They're doing it for us. That netted us a big bag of new customers. Whenever their marketing hounds push their way into TechCrunch or any other site we make sure we're there. Whenever one of their customers complain on Twitter about having no results, we're there to offer them an alternative. Best of all, we have our fans out their telling their stories and how they've enjoyed our apps, and to them we owe a great many thanks.

Yes, Zurb have got a bigger marketing team than us (we don't have one), they have more developers (we only have me), they have more designers (we just have Matt) and THAT is precisely the main reason they'll fail long before us. We know the market, and we know we can support a small team on what UsabilityHub and Fivesecondtest.com bring in. We're not making truckloads of cash, but we don't need to make truckloads. Zurb...well...they have to. We're in a highly competitive, low-priced, throw-away testing market. If they invested as much as it look like they invested....well...ouch! I'd hate to be at that meeting....

Matt and I both do consulting work as our main vocation, and run UsabilityHub because it's something we're passionate about. Zurb, on the other hand, are doing it to make money. Our knowledge of the market, and our knowledge of our users tells us where we need to be, and that is the only competitive edge we need over Zurb or anyone else.

So the moral of this story is, if you have a good idea someone will copy it, it's just a matter of when. If you're small, like us, you can listen to your users and change direction, you can spin on a dime, provide 1 on 1 service, and use your knowledge of your market to beat all newcomers. Be small, be fast, keep your product focused and most of all concentrate on what you're doing and not what your competitors are doing.