Need to Make a Decision? Ask the Magic 8 Ball

By Koko Wadeson

The first phone app I ever downloaded was Magic 8 Ball. Technically, the app is called Fortune Ball for trademark reasons, but the ersatz legalistic name does not obscure its identity. (Just as a freezer pop is a popsicle and sparkling wine is champagne, trademark and terroir issues be damned.) I was thrilled to have a digital Magic 8 Ball to help me make decisions, in no small part because it is much more portable than its analog cousin.

Magic 8 Ball had been a trusted guide of mine since childhood. My older sister had one that I borrowed when she was not around. I became enthralled and decided that she did not appreciate its true value, so I neglected to return it. In its physical form the Magic 8 Ball invited contemplation. It had the heft of a scaled-down bowling ball and the gravitas of its dark horse namesake and was filled with a mysterious liquid that concealed the answer on the icosahedral die until it floated into view in the circular window.

That Magic 8 Ball was eventually dropped one too many times, developing a crack and losing an alarming quantity of its inky lifeblood—which led to its confiscation by my mother. I didn’t buy or pilfer a replacement, but its power as a decision-making tool stayed with me. And then, years later, some magical thinking programmers developed the Fortune Ball. The app lacks the comforting solidity of the original, but it is surprisingly satisfying as so many physical things that we once believed could not be replaced digitally are. (Not that long ago I couldn’t imagine buying shoes online. I now buy shoes online almost exclusively. Sorry, shoe stores.)

But is the Magic 8 Ball a valid tool for making decisions affecting your small business? The answer to that question is, “As I see it yes”—though you might not want to tell investors. Magic 8 Ball works because it is more than the sum of its parts. Often, just formulating the question reveals the answer. Which is why—to keep things interesting—Magic 8 Ball sometimes uses reverse psychology, giving an answer that is obviously wrong. When in doubt, you can use the time-honored 2-out-of-3 tactic to be sure. The trick is asking the question from different angles—posing the exact same question 3 times in a row is rude and does not yield nuanced answers. And at other times, Magic 8 Ball perceives that you are not ready to ask the question or know the answer and demurs to give you time to get your shit together.

Some people are fast decision makers, acting on impulse and intuition, and others are painfully slow, analyzing and second guessing to distraction. To leap or not to leap? And if you leap, how high and when? And if you don’t leap, then what? Certainly, sound business decisions are informed. Do some research, collect data, gather input, carefully consider the options, and then decide. But sometimes you need a little magic to make sure you know what you know. So don’t be afraid to include some wacky, unscientific methods in your process. If you value innovation and adaptability in your business and your life, you need to open yourself up to some play, some goofy childlikeness. Magic 8 Ball says that “without a doubt” you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the results.