George Washington Portrait

I’m currently reading Ron Chernow’s in-depth biography of George Washington, and I’ve realized that Washington had a secret weapon for making difficult decisions that he used often and to great effect. It’s a technique that Abraham Lincoln used almost 75 years later. And it’s a technique that you can use today.

Washington was and is celebrated for many of his traits and abilities, including his almost supernatural poise on the battlefield, but he generally wasn’t considered an original thinker. This could be because he never received a formal education, because his political style was generally reserved and secretive in order to preserve flexibility as long as possible, because he spent more time on practical knowledge, or because he didn’t have time left to do much beyond tending his various estates given his tendency to micromanage.

Amazingly, he was still able to make sound, prudent decisions in many of the unprecedented situations he faced by actively seeking out information from different sources: peers, newspapers, citizens, and books.

When George Washington needed to make difficult decisions, he made sure that his data variety was as high as possible.

Washington regularly consulted with different people throughout his life whenever he needed help with a decision. He had mentors that led him to a military path early on. During the American Revolutionary War, he consulted with his generals and French allies on war strategies and battle plans. It was his French allies that convinced him to drop a longheld desire to reclaim New York City - and some pride after a major defeat there early in the war - in favor of attacking Yorktown, which was ultimately the decisive battle in the war. As president, he consulted with all of his cabinet members, who had different ideological viewpoints, on issues that extended beyond their individual domains in government to ensure he was getting as many perspectives as possible.

He also made it a point to read political newspapers and gazettes often, recognizing their ability to surface additional differing perspectives, sway public opinion, and provide news about happenings in the United States, and abroad.

Finally, he spoke to his customers, the American people. Although George Washington was an introvert, meaning he would find interacting with large crowds draining, he organized northern and southern tours as President. These tours gave him an opportunity to talk to citizens and get their perspectives on the success of the administration and specific pieces of legislation, like the whiskey tax.

The lesson here should be clear. When you need to make a difficult decision, you should follow in the steps of George Washington and seek out and consult multiple data sources. This is one of the core steps to becoming data-driven, and when done correctly, it can help us escape the echo chambers that we find ourselves in every day.