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Decision Sprint

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Decision Sprint

The New Way to Innovate into the Unknown and Move from Strategy to Action


15 min read
7 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

How can you make better decisions? Begin by turning unknowns into knowns.

Editorial Rating



  • Comprehensive
  • Analytical
  • Applicable


Donald H. Rumsfeld, President George W. Bush’s defense secretary, popularized the concept of “unknown unknowns”: risks you can’t anticipate because they are rooted in things that you don’t know that you don’t know. In this exploration of smart decision-making, Silicon Valley innovator Atif Rafiq expands on Rumsfeld’s concept. Business leaders must accept that they don’t know everything, he explains, urging them to work proactively to discover unknowns and turn them into knowns by using his “Decision Sprint” system – a process designed to help leaders avoid the pitfalls that derail innovative projects.  


Organizations often lack effective systems for dealing with “unknowns.”

Companies today face a complex environment where various “unknowns” impede planning and generate ambiguity. Organizational leaders tend to react to these unknowns in one of two ways: They either pretend the unknowns don’t exist and plot their course forward based on known risks, or they encourage exploration of unknowns, but the effort exists in a silo and often isn’t integrated into corporate planning or strategy. 

Neither approach is ideal. Innovation and the successful navigation of unknowns hinge on establishing pre-execution – or “upstream” – processes for discovering unknown risks, turning them into known risks and deciding how to respond to them. Only then can a project or initiative hope to flow smoothly.

The “Decision Sprint” approach calls for System 2 thinking. 

The Decision Sprint approach helps organizations make better decisions by enabling better inputs – the factors decision-makers take into account when weighing ideas and setting a course of action. When companies normalize the organization-wide process of discovering...

About the Author

Silicon Valley innovator Atif Rafiq held chief executive positions at McDonald’s, Volvo and MGM Resorts and filled executive roles in other corporations. A P&L expert and frequent public speaker, he founded the software app Ritual and serves on several boards of directors.

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