Isaiah Berlin, the 20th century philosopher, described how people decide on things as either like a hedgehog or like a fox. A fox knows something about many small things while a hedgehog knows everything about one great thing. Most estate planning and estate planners think like a hedgehog, they know everything about estate planning. This approach works well for most people but for others a fox-like decision-making process, which is much more difficult, is required. This is especially true for both entrepreneurs and for people with ADHD.
Why entrepreneurs and people with ADHD? Because they make impulsive, sub-optimal decisions, often choosing options which bring a prompt, but smaller, immediate reward instead of making a choice that yields a larger, long term, reward. This extends into planning, organization, self-regulation, and prioritizing—the key abilities needed to decide on a course of action. Like a fox with too many choices, they can also see too many options, and end up with “analysis paralysis”—avoiding deciding because you are too worried about making wrong decisions about things as you experienced in the past or anticipate in the future. This avoidance of decision-making means that there is no progress. This inaction frequently requires another person to decide for you. In the estate planning process, this “other person” is the state and federal government.
It is important to differentiate between risky behavior and sub-optimal decision-making. Risky behavior is the deliberate taking of the riskier action. Entrepreneurs and people with ADHD are, in fact, more risk adverse than the general population. Entrepreneurs and people with ADHD are, however, better at making snap decisions, that is a decision in the heat of the moment, when the future is unpredictable; and, you do not have the time for a long and thoughtful process to find the optimal decision. They make an action-based decision and adapt to inherently unpredictable situations on the fly. What both entrepreneurs and people with ADHD require, when there is not a crisis, is to use a prediction-based, decision process. Said another way, they need to be comfortable being a fox at some times and a hedgehog at other times, or at least engaging a hedgehog to work for you.
Here is an outline of a fox-like, action-based decision process.
1. What is it that you want?
2. What are you willing and able to put at risk?
3. Act quickly and quietly.
4. With the resources and information at hand, bring along those people you know with the least amount of risk possible. Are the results what you wanted? If yes, then repeat. If no, then review what you want.
Here is a hedgehog-like, prediction-based, decision process.
1. Define your decision. Write down what your goal is.
2. Define the objectives that move you towards your goal.
3. Which objective(s) are you most likely to miss achieving?
4. Consider alternative strategies that achieve your “lagging objective” and ask for each strategy:
• Is the strategy sufficient to achieve your objective?
• Is the strategy necessary to achieve your objective?
• Is the strategy even possible under the current circumstances?
• Is there an action plan for implementing the strategy?
5. Determine the risks and trade-offs your selected strategy entails.
6. Select and implement an action plan based on your selected strategy.
Here is how I integrate both an action based and prediction-based estate planning for to be both a fox and a hedgehog for entrepreneurs and people with ADHD:
1. Help determine what is your goal—that is what do you need now, and how that gets you what you want in the future.
2. Help draw up scenario plans of what you would need to do that achieves your goal.
3. Look at the immediate situation: is it both urgent and important?
4. Help you take what actions you can take now, with the resources, people, skills and contacts you have on hand and are willing to put at risk, that can reduce the uncertainty of the immediate situation.
5. Integrate what you learn from your actions into one of your scenarios.
6. When the crisis is tamped down, help you take the next step to achieve the objectives of your scenario plan.
7. Help you deal with the next emergency.
So, here are some helpful tips for you, if you are an entrepreneur or a person with ADHD and need to do some estate planning (or any type of decision making for that matter):
• Write it down: Writing your goal and your scenario down requires you to think through the process. Remember, if it is not in writing, it does not exist (at least as far as the probate court is concerned).
• Make snap decisions: In times of crisis, it is better to do something, even if it not the optimal thing, than to do nothing.
• Have a dictator: Find someone to whom you declare your goals and objectives. Give them the right to impose firm standards from the outside.
• Record what you have learned: When you do get something done, record it and learn from it, good or bad.
• Set a public deadline: I have a paralegal whose job it is to start prodding clients well before the deadline so that they get things done.
• Change your perspective: Estate planning is not about dying, it is about living—how you want to live the rest of your life.
So, if you are a fox and you find the hedgehog estate planning process does not work for you, do not despair: there is a process for you. If you are suffering from analysis paralysis, then get a fox to help make a snap decision and see what you learn. If you are making impulsive decisions, find your hedgehog dictator and have them slow down your impulses. Finally, always remember, doing something is always better than doing nothing.
Matthew Erskine is managing partner at Erskine & Erskine.