Monday Musings, On Leadership, Recommended Readings
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Banish apathy

Have you ever been tempted to type in the big shrug emoji in response to an email? Give an unenthusiastic “well, OK” to a colleague’s question? Darken your camera so you can doze off in a Zoom meeting? Scan the possibilities and then respond to a supervisor or spouse with “whatever”?

If you’ve ever experienced that “meh” attitude, stop! Kill that impulse!

Never Say Whatever: How Small Decisions Make a Big Difference (2023) by Dr. Richard A. Moran reveals how the W-word is a career — and life — killer. We have a chance to make a big impact in both, but to do so we have to make the numerous daily decisions that everyone faces. The choices we make, even the small ones, help us pivot toward the life and career we want. But that becomes much harder if we tend to rely on “whatever” as a substitute for decision-making. It is a word that “can be a whole sentence, an attitude, an ‘OK,’ or nothing at all.” It can also be habit forming, with disastrous long-term consequences.

An entrepreneur, author, radio host, and former college president, Rich draws on a lifetime of personal experience in this, his tenth book. But he also expands the perspective through interviews with a wide range of corporate decision makers. They all help us see that banishing apathy is a big key to success.

I’ve known Rich and his wife Carol for years. In Never Say Whatever, Rich writes with the honest and humorous style I’ve come to know and appreciate. I was pleased and honored when Rich agreed to share insights he’s uncovered with readers of More to Come.

DJB: Rich, why has the word “whatever” come to be such a toxic response in both our business and personal lives?

RM: The word “whatever” can be both a lazy response and a way to avoid a decision. Both are behaviors that are not going to live a better life or enhance your career. The small decisions are especially susceptible to a “whatever” but it’s all the millions of small decisions that make for a good life and a successful career. Think about your own reaction when you come across someone who says “whatever” all the time. It’s not good. In global surveys about the most annoying words we deal with, “whatever” is always near the top. The simple act of removing that word from your persona will make you a better person. 

A way to think about curing “whatever” is to be intentional. If your intentions are clear, it is always easier to make decisions, especially the small ones. If you intend to lose weight, you act like you are on a diet and make decisions accordingly. Simple.

We’ve all heard that we shouldn’t worry about the small stuff. You disagree. Why are these small decisions so critical to success and happiness and is there a cost to avoiding them?

The research shows that we make about 35,000 decisions in a day. That is an incredible number. The same research found we make over 300 decisions in the act of going out to lunch. Think of lunch as a metaphor: where to sit? turkey? rye? sourdough? mustard? lettuce? You get the idea. Giving a “whatever” answer to any of those simple questions will likely result in a sandwich you don’t want. I think if you make decisions about the small stuff you won’t worry about it as much.

Many of your examples are for those working in the business sector, so how do the lessons you bring to light apply to the nonprofit world, and how might they differ between those two sectors?

The nonprofit world can fall victim to “whatever” too. I found that when people give up or feel that their efforts won’t make a difference, a “whatever” attitude can settle in to the organization and the individual. When the problems that the nonprofit are trying to solve are so big, the needle of success might not move every day. Think climate change or hunger. Breaking down missions into bite-size projects with bite-size decisions might be a better way to go. It’s important to recognize when a “whatever” attitude is creeping in and kill it before it can spread. I found no difference between any demographic or organization about how “whatever” can be toxic.

Rich Moran

Each chapter includes “Tools and Hacks” to help apply the lessons being shared as well as a perspective on “Whatever” from a range of successful leaders. Can you share a favorite of each that especially resonates with you?

Decision making need not be complicated. Too often the approach to decision making can get in the way of the actual decision. Spreadsheets and pivot tables are not always the answer. Everyone has their go-to tools including listing pros and cons or relying on the gut. My favorite tools that were mentioned was the “Magic 8 Ball”. Someone else asks SIRI on their iPhone about decisions. Successful leaders can process decisions quickly based on listening, data, examining the options and choosing one. All the leaders I spoke to sort of have the same approach. But remember, we are all leaders of something. At the most basic level we are the leader of our own life.

Finally, Rich, what is the successful business consultant and entrepreneur reading these days?

I tend to listen to wise advisors like you, David. You recommended Four Thousand Weeks by Oliver Burkeman and it changed my perspective about time. Another favorite is This is Happiness by Niall Williams. Recommendations come in all genres and I like them all. I tend to use reading as a time to learn about writing as well as the subject matter. The table next to my bed is full of books from my favorite recommenders. The latest additions are:

Many thanks, Rich, for taking the time to share your insights.

Thanks so much David. I appreciate it.

More to come…


Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay


I am David J. Brown (hence the DJB) and I originally created this personal blog more than ten years ago as a way to capture photos and memories from a family vacation. After the trip was over I simply continued writing. Over the years the blog has changed to have a more definite focus aligned with my interest in places that matter, reading well, roots music, and more. My professional background is as a national nonprofit leader with a four-decade record of growing and strengthening organizations at local, state, and national levels. This work has been driven by my passion for connecting people in thriving, sustainable, and vibrant communities.

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