Dec. 3 2012 09:05 PM

You've most likely come across these sayings: "Look Before You Leap" and "Going Off Half-Cocked" and realize that they caution to gather information or prepare before you make a decision. As I was considering this column, I wondered about the origins of those phrases. The look/leap phrase means before you do something (leap) weigh consequences (the look) of your actions. Half-cocked goes back to the hammer of 17th century ornate flintlock muskets that resembled a rooster or cock. When a gun was fully cocked, it was ready to be fired; the half-cocked position was merely a safe position used when walking between battles. Taking the time to fully cock the gun was often not remembered in the stress of the battle - with embarrassing and dangerous results.

How often do you follow that advice? With the pressure of deadlines and swift competition in our industry, many times the reality is that you use your gut instinct and make the best decision you can with the information you have at the moment.

Is that the best solution? Will you have to make regretful adjustments later (personal and financial)? John F. Kennedy said it well: "Too often we enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought." It takes more time to listen to all sides of an issue, get the facts, and weigh the possible outcomes than it does to leap ahead.

As with the "cock" on a gun, contributions to projects have been related to a chicken and pig. Have you ever heard the story of the chicken and a pig's breakfast plan for the farmer? A chicken's idea for her breakfast contribution is called involvement; the pig's is total commitment!

If you've ever made decisions related to agile project management (determining requirements for highly flexible and interactive engineering or information technology development projects) the term Pig describes the designers, developers, and people who test the projects - those who commit to the work. The term Chicken applies to everyone else who share their thoughts, but do NOT commit to any work.

We've all experienced people who will share their wisdom, but when it comes to actually working on the project do you hear the sound of crickets? However, if all you can contribute is just your opinion, be sure you've gathered the right information - you look before you leap.

Can you tell if your opinion is based on facts, on emotions, or on personal experience? Is it an informed opinion? The "Oracle of Omaha," Warren Buffet, once said: "A public opinion poll is no substitute for thought."
Here are a few recommendations to make sure you have a thoughtful, informed opinion:
· Learn as much as you can related to the topic at hand through appropriate research.
· Is the source of your information credible?
o Authority of the information
o Web sites ending in: .edu, .gov, .org
o Objectivity (purpose of the information)
o Timeliness
· Ask good questions.
· Is the information you gather supported by examples and facts?
· Think about the differing points of view
· Remember, there are always two (or more) sides to any story - listen to all sides with an open mind and try to understand the various perspectives. Put your bias on hold!

I'll leave you with a few more recommendations to consider related to decision making:
"If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame." Proverbs 18:13
"A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion." Proverbs 18:2
"Slow to speak and quick to hear..." James 1:19