Decision Making For Dummies
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In decision-making, the term options refers to the different alternatives or solutions under consideration. Whether you are buying a computer, upgrading office space, or hiring an accountant, for example, you must decide which alternative offers the best solution. Some decisions, like purchasing equipment, must result in the selection of only one out of several alternatives. Other decisions may benefit from working with more than one option simultaneously.

Avoiding the one-option only trap

When you’re making a decision, having only one option to consider isn’t really an option. When you focus on only one idea to address your dilemma, you face two risks: that your (or your team’s) tunnel vision has bypassed potentially better solutions and that any decision you make will keep you safely, and potentially stagnantly, in the status quo.

There are two reasons for thinking you have only one choice:

  • Narrow thinking: In this case, you consider only what has been done before, regardless of whether it’s worked. You disregard creative or unproven ideas.

  • Fearful thinking: In this case, the decision is being triggered by fear, or the decision-making environment is characterized by fear or being afraid to take a risk.

The rationale underlying narrow or fearful thinking when making a decision is that, if nothing changes, then nothing will change. It’s a way to stay on familiar ground and stick to the status quo. And it brings on employee disengagement, the inability to retain talent, stress, and, ultimately, poor decisions.

Broadening the option pool by tapping into others’ creativity

The solution to overcoming narrow or fearful thinking is to reawaken and apply creativity. Seek ideas and additional options by involving employees, customers, suppliers, and other involved parties (and don’t forget to give credit where credit is due!). Tapping into additional sources’ creative ideas helps you avoid missing an optimal solution no one has yet thought of.

Think of options as opportunities. You can generate options by taking creative steps to reach out and look for ideas that would otherwise escape notice.

Brainstorming has long been used to come up with ideas, but in brainstorming, strong-willed people too often end up pressuring others to conform to one view — theirs! Because creative work is best done privately — most brilliant ideas come up in the shower or when you’re gardening —you should take a different approach. Follow these steps:

  1. Ask team members to identify one or more solutions on their own.

    Independently coming up with ideas enables creative ideas to come forward that might otherwise not be heard in a group setting.

  2. Collate potential solutions so that you have access to a wider range of possibilities.

    Bringing the ideas together allows the team, whether working remotely or in the same location, to see which alternatives fit.

  3. Discuss the merits of top ideas.

    Bring the top ideas forward to work with. Solicit team members’ perspectives on which alternative appeals and why it has merit. Include any risks associated with the option, as well as its pros and cons.

    Always consider dissenting views because they hold valued insights. Collaborating may result in creating a new solution or, at minimum, identifying the most viable alternatives.

  4. After discussion, short-list the alternatives — have participants select their top three choices, for example — and then gain consensus from the team.

    An easy and reliable way to short-list is to use dot voting, in which you give participants dots (you can buy these little dots from stationary stores) that they then use to identify the alternative(s) they find most appealing.

    Dot voting is a great way to rank ideas or to see where the preferences lie. You don’t use it to make the final decision. In addition, there are some rules, like how many dots you hand out (this number is based on how many people you’re working with and how many choices are under consideration) and whether you can let participants load up their dots on one idea (it’s generally a no-no!).

At this point, you should have a short list of viable options that you keep open as you move forward.

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Dawna Jones generates imaginative insights and applies 25 years experience in helping businesses and organizations make bold decisions. She co-designs the future of organizations, transforming them from "business-as-usual" to inclusive cultures of prosperity.

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