In Decision Making, Look for Options and Variables

The world can often appear binary. Something is either right or wrong. Black or white. Good or bad. Optimal or sub-optimal. This binary view of the world often flows into how we make decisions, as we search for the one right solution, or one best approach to take. This approach is based on an underlying premise that there is only one right answer.

In some situations, when the problem is highly complex, the environment is ambiguous, and the issue requires an adaptive solution, this may not be the case. As well, focusing on finding just one right answer may result in you narrowing your field of view too much. The result being that this pursuit of the ‘right’ answer may in fact not deliver the outcome you are looking for.

Accepting that often there is no one perfect solution to the dilemma in front of you is about getting comfortable with ambiguity.

The challenge is we derive comfort from certainty. We feel better about the decision we are making when someone tells us it is the only way to go. Uplifting our ambiguity comfort level starts with making sure the problem that is being discussed is actually the problem that needs to be solved. This means adequate time is set aside time to ensure the problem statement is clearly defined.

Time pressures in organisations mean that people frequently need to make decisions and reach conclusions quickly. A fast decision is not necessarily a bad decision. However, too often people don’t spend enough time gaining clarity on the issue they are confronting and ensuring there is agreement on what the problem actually is.

As Einstein said: “If I had an hour to solve a problem, I would spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes about the solution.”

We also need to avoid directing us to find the ‘right’ answer, rather we have to look for options and variables. By doing this we can shift our focus from seeking to prove that something is ‘right’, to a learning mindset which accepts that much can be learnt from finding out what is possible or different.

Summing-up: This approach helps us recognise that there may be many suitable options that can be pursued. Those options need to be weighed up, considering the trade-offs, risks and benefits involved. Over time, by adopting this approach we become more adept at dealing with unknowns and accepting that there are multiple solutions, based on multiple variables.

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