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Dictatorship or democracy? Which is better for decision-making?

Dictatorship or democracy? Which is better for decision-making?
This entry is part 13 of 24 in the series Decide

This is your big chance at a (temporary) new title.

I used to work for a naming firm. A naming firm creates names for products and companies. I guess it’s a smaller niche of advertising and then an even smaller part of branding. Just the name. No logo, no design work, no nothing except the name for the company or service or product.

When we did corporate name work, often times the CEO of the company would see our final names, be happy about them, usually have a favorite or two or three, and then say something like:

“These are great. I’m going to open up voting to the entire company and see which one when.”

We would smile politely, perhaps clasp our hands together, and wait for a moment of silence and then say:

“We don’t recommend that strategy.”

What we really meant was that this was the worst idea ever. CEOs of large corporations in Silicon Valley don’t usually like hearing that their idea is the worst ever. Pro Tip: a dollop of finesse works well when dealing with CEOs.

If they doubted our suggestion, we would happily explain what we were pretty sure would happen if he opened up the voting to the entire company. I should mention here that some would suggest only opening it up to the top level management team which usually consists of a dozen or more members. We also usually did our best to avoid that potential disaster as well.


What happens in a group decision-making process looks like a typical bell curve. There are extremes on both ends and usually some sort of meeting of the minds in the middle.

The thing about naming a company or undertaking a creative endeavor or doing something that requires a bold decision is that usually the bell curve, the common ground, the place where there is the least resistance, is often the dullest, the happy medium, the watered-down winner.

In such a voting process, which, of course, did happen on occasion when the management team didn’t take our advice, was that the extremes weren’t happy. At all. The middle of the pack, as the middle of the pack tends to do, didn’t terribly care one way or the other.

The democracy of winning a vote 51 to 49 makes 51% of the people sort of happy 49% of the people sort of unhappy and yet there is still probably a strong majority who is turned off by the whole operation.

A consensus of a group is important in many, if not most decisions that large groups make. Governments have to decide on how to build a bridge or how to serve the most amount of people in the most efficient way.

In case it’s not quite clear yet, this book was not written for governments or for large corporations making decisions about the type of asphalt to use on the highway or the best health benefits plan to offer its employees. This book, the decision I’m referring to, is meant for one person and one person only: you.


If ever I run for higher government office and they quote what I’m about to say it’s probably not going to fare very well for me.

A dictatorship is an excellent way to make a decision.

Please note, if you happen to be a dictator of a country or a CEO of a business, please note that somewhere we hopefully have put some kind of disclaimer about how this is a terrible strategy to make decisions for a large group of people.

But let’s get back to whom this book is really about: you and only you.

The higher-ups at companies usually took our advice to not bring in the entire team for a cooperative and community vote on a name of a product or especially the name of a company. The CEO and perhaps a very small group of his or her trusted advisors met behind closed doors and weighed the pros and cons of each name. They analyzed the meaning of the name and how it would be perceived by both employees and customers of the company. They talked through the feeling of the name and the letters and the sounds they made and how that would make employees feel and how customers might react emotionally to the new name.

But what often won out over all of the rational and strategic an Excel spreadsheet tables and PowerPoint charts was usually a gut feeling. What often won out was what most resonated with the people for whom it mattered most.

Now here comes the bonus brownie point fun part we all, including some of the CEOs, didn’t expect.

We then advised these leaders to set up a meeting with the whole company, build up some enthusiasm and hype, slowly and even meticulously explain the entire creative process that the team went through to arrive at this conclusion, and then with a certain and confident and yet still collegial style, they informed the teams that they were proud to have decided on a winner name for the future of the company.

What they had done is made a decision, stuck with it, and then explained what a fantastic decision it was.

Note that there is no mention of secondary voting rounds or possible routes back to another option. It was made clear that this was the decision and it was final.

This is the science and art of bold and clear and leading decision-making.

You are not a government organization. You are not a CEO of a company with thousands of employees (and if you are, hopefully, you read the disclaimer about not changing your company’s health plan on these ideas).

You are an individual with the decision to make. You are a person who has been weighing back and forth, two and fro, some twiddling and head shaking, waiting, all to make that final presentation and to have the masses cheer you on in excitement. (Note that the masses often don’t cheer you on at first attempt. But they will respect you and your decision if you stick with it.)

To be a dictator in this world is not usually a very popular position. Unless, of course, you’re the dictator.

My experience in decision-making leads me to believe that for you, as an individual, this is probably the only time when being a dictator is going to be a good thing.

Meta-note: as someone who worked in the naming industry for a number of years, I take full responsibility for my choice of radical names for this chapter. Really? Dictator? I might have chosen simpler, less controversial titles, but then again my goal with this chapter is not one of democracy and common ground. My goal with this chapter is boldness, leadership, and you making that got decision.

The Real World–and Your Place in It

That’s all well and good with the dictator examples. But what about you? And what is it I’m really getting at here?

Real world example: you want to change careers. You want to do Plan A. Consensus of friends and family say Plan B is best. Unless Plan A is a murderer or, ahem, taking that job opening on the third-world dictator’s publicity team, we’re now back to: you versus everyone else.

What do you think you should do?

Again, we’re not talking about something easy like what to have for dinner. We’re talking about what’s right for you. No, really right for you. Remember, we’re also not talking about the you that they’re expecting, we’re talking about the you that you’re expecting. The one you’ve been waiting for, hoping for, rooting for.

What’s the decision for that person? For that future person? What decision today is the one that future you is going to be proud of?

Then you can pull the dictator card.

Series Navigation<< “Wait, I take that back.” Are our decisions reversible?In a back alley brawl, “Decide” is going to win out over “Hope.” >>

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