Let's draw a distinction between being decisive and being impulsive.
Decisive: As soon as enough relevant information is gathered and analyzed, a decision is made promptly and consistent action immediately follows the decision.
Impulsive: As above, but generated by primarily by emotion.
Impulsiveness is always decisive, but it's decisiveness based on... well, on impulse. On emotion and the first grasp of the situation. Decisiveness can be done without being impulsive, by first gathering and analyzing the information.
Decisiveness is an incredible virtue. It's something extraordinarily worth cultivating and will produce tremendous benefits for you if you cultivate it.
Impulsiveness is a bastardized version of decisiveness. It's decisiveness, so it has tremendous value. But it implies acting on emotion without necessarily getting the full set of relevant facts.
The funny thing about impulsiveness is that it tends to perform really well until it starts performing poorly.
Then it performs really poorly.
For the vast majority of action, fast decisionmaking (decisiveness and celerity) is more important than getting the nuances right. Just getting started and getting into action is incredibly valuable.
The problem comes when you "go with your gut" and you're wrong. Being impulsive can gain you a lot of ground, but you can lose 50% to 80% of that ground in one bad decision.
An example: I just finished "Call Me Ted," Ted Turner's autobiography. He was a decisive guy and it made him a lot of victories. Sometimes he was also impulsive, and he had two or three transactions that cost him an immense amount of ground.
He moved quickly and overpaid for MGM, and then sold most of it back at a significant loss that was the beginning of many other problems.
Because of that transaction, he had to bring new investors into his company. He gave veto powers to two new investors which were later used against him.
And the extraordinarily disastrously bad AOL-TimeWarner merger.
By being decisive and crossing slightly over into impulsiveness, Ted built his fortune. But those three transactions cost him somewhere between half and 80% of what he could have had, and eventually he got forced out of his own company. Heck, he might have had 1,500% more resources at the end of his career without those three.
Now, who cares, eh? What's the difference between $2 billion and $30 billion? Nothing?
Well, Ted cares a lot about the environment, on ending nuclear proliferation, and on promoting good relations and world peace. $30 billion would mean a hell of a lot more money into conservation, pollution cleanup, protecting endangered species, decommissioning weapons, and supporting positive global organizations.
At that magnitude, it doesn't make a difference for his personal lifestyle at all, but it does make a considerable difference for the causes he holds most dearly.
But again, he couldn't have become a billionaire in the first place without being extremely decisive. The decisiveness is extraordinarily valuable, but the ideal decisiveness is a gradual, mature stripping out of excess emotion in the decisionmaking.
Achieving extraordinary decisiveness without any impulsiveness would be hard to do, but worth striving for. The combination means all the efficacy and speed of a decisive person, without the blunders of an impulsive one.
Experience has led me to place the impulsive person who earnestly believes he is actually being decisive is high on my "risky people to deal with" list.
Not impulsive people, mind you, but just those who don't understand the distinction.
Making snap judgments is fine, and works pretty well - our brains are wired to work that way (I recommend reading Blink, by Malcom Gladwell on this subject, a great look at snap decision making). This is the best way to deal with the hundreds of trivial choices we are faced with every day. But it is an important skill to be able to recognize when more careful consideration is justified.
The key is ensuring that the amount of thought that goes into a decision is to be proportional to the gravity of the decision's consequences.
I find myself erring on the side of indecisiveness rather than impulsiveness more often than not. So for me, at any given decision, I keep reminding myself of the magnitude of that specific decision which is usually smaller than the time wasted making a perfect decision.
Plus, in my humble opinion, it is better to live a life with a few catastrophic mistakes rather than a life of safe, incremental decision-making.
History shows us that we should not play things halfway.
Toyotomi Hideyoshi was Undisputed Ruler of Japan. He had brought all the Japanese generals under his loyalty, set an extremely durable and efficient legal structure, and had achieved more than anyone in Japanese history - rising from a peasant servant to the height of command.
Unsatisfied with the fastest and largest ascent in all of Japanese history, Hideyoshi wanted to conquer all of Korea and China. In the year 1597, he launched the Second Korean Campaign.
In the most desperate times, strong cultures produce great heroes - and Korean Grand Admiral Yi Sun-Sin rose to the challenge, shattering the Japanese naval forces and cutting the supply lines. The Japanese forces pinned down in Korea had land superiority, solid defensive fortifications, and better artillery. But the Ming China/Joseon Korean alliance was winning the gradual war of attrition after establishing naval superiority.
Toyotomi had won basically every engagement he'd fought in throughout history. A scuffling defeat here and there, but he had seemed blessed by the gods themselves. He was, naturally, furious at the inability of his forces to conquer Korea.
Slowly, he regained consciousness. He was not the same; the skin that had covered him earlier lay next to him. Some still remained on his face and arms, but for the most part it had fallen off. He stared at the ceiling for a minute and noticed a giant black stain on it; he thought it must be mold. It certainly did smell musty. Something was digging into his back; it was from all the trash that he was lying on. He moved to the left, a small grunt came out of him from the pain in his back. He looked at his hands and could still see pieces of the white skin that had covered him. Still lying on the side of his stomach, he tried to wipe it away gently. It got stuck to his hands so he then wiped it on the ground.
He rolled over, putting his hand and knees on the ground ready to lift himself up when he turned and saw a women lying next to him. She was bloodied and her eyes were closed. Startled, he jumped up, scared out of his mind. He looked around as if he would get some clues from the old, abandoned, military surpluses store. Everything was a mess; it looked like if a hurricane had been let loose inside, destroying everything. His breath was heavy; his nerves tingled all over his body. Not knowing how he had ended up here scared him but not knowing why a bloodied woman was lying on the ground with no one else around terrified him more.
“Hello” he said, in a low tone. Still staring at the women on the ground, he noticed the same thing he had on his arms on her. “Hello, is anyone here?” This time he spoke louder, but no one answered. He then looked at himself and noticed his torn clothes and that puss filled, smelly skin-like substance on his chest as he peeked over the collar. “What the fuck?” he said. On the back wall in a dusty mirror, he noticed his reflection. He still had pieces of slimy skin stuck on his face. He stared at it for a few seconds then he wiped off what he had on his face. The situation was very overwhelming as he had no idea of what was going on. He thought hard but could not even recall who he was.
He walked towards her, and went down onto his knees. “Miss,” he said as he gently pushed her, “Miss,” But she did not respond. He noticed the injury to her hand and then saw the pool of blood under her blonde hair. His chest rose with every deep breath he took. He tried to control his nerves but it was not helping. He checked if she was breathing, but she was not. As he looked around, he noticed he had something stuck to his left arm. He reached over with his right arm and, as he pulled it away, he felt a small sting. He pressed his lips together from the small pain he felt. He inspected it closely. It said MZ-2 on the stainless still tube. Both ends were red and the needle was thick. Its contents had been emptied into him. The idea of an unknown substance in his body frightened him. Everything that he was experiencing was driving him crazy. Anxiety threatened but he slowed his breath.
A loud metallic noise startled him, bringing him back to reality. For a moment, he was lost in wonder of what was going on. The noise had come from the alley. He made his way over to the rusted door. Slowly, he peeked outside, afraid of what he would find. He saw six men in the distance; at least that’s what he thought they were so he screamed for help. Soon enough, he realized that these things were not human. One of them had noticed him and started to run towards him. Soon, the rest followed suit. Not being able to process what was going on, he stood paralyzed then realized he needed to get back inside.