Five Mind Decision Making

Early in life, my Dad taught me the value of surrounding myself with really smart people. Friends and mentors along the way have echoed my Dad, advising me to build a “personal board of advisors."Personally, I call these people the "five mind,” and they’re incredibly useful when a big decision rolls around.

It isn’t always exactly five people, but it’s definitely catchier than “personal board of advisors.” The people I choose to include in the five mind change based on each decision (if I was thinking about getting engaged, I would call different people than if I needed bail). Members of each decision’s five mind need to satisfy four criteria: (1) I respect the hell out of them, (2) they have enough context to have a strong opinion, (3) I know they will be honest, and (4) they have relevant experience. 

We recently made a pretty big decision not to build something at Mattermark. This initiative would have fully absorbed my time, and it would have changed our company in a significant way. 

At first, I was excited as hell. “This is going to be fun,” I thought. As I let the thought marinate, I started to see how this was going to mean big changes for how I spent my time, and I knew it was time for a five mind decision. 

I called my Dad, who is not just my Dad, but a trusted mentor and friend. He was just as excited as I was. This made me nervous, because my Dad almost never thinks my ideas are good right off the bat. He usually provides much needed critical feedback that I hate at first, but value extensively in the long-term. 

I arranged a breakfast, a coffee, and a couple drinks with this decision’s five mind. My second meeting was just as excited, if not more excited, as my Dad and I. This is when I knew something was wrong. Finally, on meeting number three, I got the critical feedback I needed. I got about five reasons why we were about to make a big mistake along with a whole lot of clarity.

After that meeting, I walked along the San Francisco waterfront back to my office while listening to Ratatat’s “Loud Pipes.” In my head I pit point against counterpoint, and by the time I got back to the office I knew the initiative, in its current form, was dead. I was a little bummed out, but my head was clear.

That afternoon my Co-Founder, Danielle, and I had a meeting about this new thing. I sat down, knowing I would be crushing her imagination in this meeting. She sat down and insisted on speaking first. She surprised me by having come to the same conclusion as me on her own. She came to the meeting equally nervous about crushing my imagination.  

This is just the most recent of countless stories from my life where the five mind helped me objectively evaluate a big decision and course correct. Now let’s just hope they’re right.